"More Needs to Be Done"—MSH Responds to Reports that Maternal Mortality Rates Are Declining

Responding to recently released findings from The Lancet that maternal mortality rates are sharply declining, MSH’s family planning/reproductive health expert, Dr. Halida Akhter, said “this is good news” and evidence that progress is being made to improve women’s health. Yet, cautions Dr. Akhter, ". . . more needs to be done."

Dr. Akhter emphasizes that while there have been some gains; maternal mortality rates remain high in many countries, especially those with high birth and HIV rates. These countries often lack the infrastructure and resources necessary to support interventions known to reduce maternal mortality rates. At the same time, there can be political, religious, and social constraints that limit women’s access to health services and ability to control their reproductive health. “There still needs to be a sustained focus and commitment by the donor community to align our efforts and identify countries where maternal mortality rates remain high,” says Dr. Akhter.

For Dr. Akhter, the United Nation’s International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 (Cairo ICPD) was a key “international instrument” in establishing the interventions that reduce maternal mortality rates: education of women, empowerment of women, emergency obstetric care, trained attendance during childbirth, and access to family planning/reproductive health services. According to Dr. Akhter, “you get a synergistic effect from all these interventions,” something she saw first-hand in Bangladesh when heading a large nongovernmental organization focused on reproductive health.

However, “gaining government commitment at the country level is critical” says Dr. Akther. For example, a leadership development program in Egypt’s Aswan Governorate contributed to lowering the maternal mortality rate from 85 to 35 between 2005 and 2007 but had strong support from the Egyptian government who was a full partner in the project.

Also, since high mortality rates appear the most in resource-poor areas with poor access to health care, often in countries where women may be unaware of family planning options,” we need to continue efforts to strengthen health systems and integrate family planning/reproductive health, HIV & AIDS, and maternal and child health interventions while empowering women to use and demand those services.”

Halida Akhter is a reproductive health epidemiologist with over 25 years of national and international work experience in reproductive health issues. She was closely involved with the Cairo ICPD both nationally and at the United Nations level, representing Bangladesh. Prior to joining MSH, Dr. Akhter was the founder and director of the leading reproductive health research institute of Bangladesh and headed the largest reproductive health nongovernmental organization in the country. Dr. Akhter is also the founder of a grassroots organization that trains women to become community maternity practitioners in rural Bangladesh.

Related Links:

Bringing Women and Reproductive Health Back to the Global Agenda

Fact Sheet: Integrating Family Planning with Other Health Services

Fact Sheet: Improving the Health of Women and Girls by Strengthening Health Systems

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