maternal health

We know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. But without intervention nearly 40 percent of mothers with HIV/AIDS in developing countries will transmit the virus to their newborns.

Three decades ago, life in the lakeside village of Zambo was calm.

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

I’d like to call attention to an important set of articles in the recent HIV/AIDS themed issue of The Lancet. Erik Schouten of Malawi Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival (BASICS) has published a commentary (free registration required) about Malawi’s push to be the first country to implement a “B+” approach to reducing mother to child transmission.

The community midwife sitting with Suzanna Ile and her son, Modi, in South Sudan. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Blog post updated Dec. 27, 2011.

Suzanna Ile is a 26-year old woman from Lokiliri Payam in South Sudan. Suzanna lost her first two babies in child birth. During her third pregnancy, a community midwife at Lokiliri Primary Healthcare Centre -- a health facility supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through the MSH-led Sudan Health Transformation Project (SHTP II) -- recognized Suzanna’s contracted pelvis and identified her high risk pregnancy.

Without access to emergency services and a health facility capable of performing a Caesarean section, the midwife knew Suzanna would likely lose her third child as well. A contracted pelvis often results in obstructed labor, fistulas, postpartum hemorrhage, or the death of the infant and mother. The midwife discussed with Suzanna alternative delivery options during an antenatal care visit.

This is a guest blog post written by Derek Lee from Pathfinder International.

The donkey cart ambulances were built by local craftsman.

On October 15, 2010, dozens of Kenyan women in bright headscarves gathered beneath the acacia trees scattered outside Balambala sub-district hospital.  The area chief was in attendance, as were members of the local women’s livelihood groups.  Despite the oppressive heat, everyone was in jovial spirits because this sunny day marked a momentous occasion for their “Care for the Mother” project.

Over the course of the past ten days, I have been fortunate to visit the Central, Eastern, and Western Regions of Uganda.  As part of these visits, I have traveled through and spent time in many of the districts in these regions. It is during these drives through the countryside that I have noticed the campaigns for family planning services over and over again. Though it is possible my eye is fine tuned to notice these signs, as I am here supporting STRIDES for Family Health (a MSH-led, USAID funded family planning, reproductive health, and child and maternal health project), it would be hard for anyone to miss the cheerful rainbows that are posted on signs outside many of the health centers and hospitals indicating that family planning services are provided in that facility.

Signs promoting available family planning services in Uganda, March 2011.

 

The Global Health Initiative (GHI) and its approach of integrating health programs with HIV & AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, maternal, newborn, and child health, nutrition, and family planning and reproductive health is in line with the current approaches and health priorities of the Government of Malawi.

Malawi, with a population of slightly over 13 million people, has 83% of its people living in the rural hard to reach, underserved areas. The biggest health challenge facing the country is access to basic health services by the rural population. The problem of access to health services is multifaceted. For instance, family planning services are mostly facility-based, contributing to a low Contraceptive Prevalence Rate of 28% and high unmet family planning need of 28% (Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2004).

However, there is also a critical shortage of trained health service providers and availability of contraceptives is a logistical nightmare in Malawi. Making a routine mix of all contraceptives accessible to women of reproductive age regularly in rural communities can avert unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths, and reduce high total fertility rate and infant mortality rate. Rural people walk long distances to seek health services, sometimes only to return without a service due to shortage of health personnel and stock-out of supplies.

Halida Akhter receiving the United Nations Population Award in 2006.

Bangladesh, which is situated in a resource poor setting with a population of over 150 million, faces the major health challenge of a high maternal mortality rate. In the 1970s, the maternal mortality rate was 700 deaths per 100,000, and now it is still at 320 per 100,000. Although Bangladesh has made progress in reducing its infant mortality, much progress needs to be made to reach the Millennium Development Goals for maternal mortality. Bangladesh will need more than five years to achieve the goals. The Global Health Initiative (GHI) will help address the major health challenges women face in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has successful models of collaboration and public-private partnerships to share with other countries.

A team of experts from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and World Bank recently published a report on maternal mortality entitled “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008" (PDF).

The document reports some fantastic news about a public health indicator that has until recently refused to budge. That indicator is the maternal mortality ratio, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The improvement between 1990 and 2008 is significant and promising.

The part of the report that received much less coverage relates to HIV and its strong, adverse effect on maternal mortality. The authors estimate that in 2008 there were 42,000 deaths due to HIV & AIDS among pregnant women and approximately half of those were maternal deaths. In absence of HIV we would have had 337,000 maternal deaths in 2008 instead of 358,000.

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