maternal mortality

 {Photo credit: Cindy Shiner/MSH}A mother waits for the nurse to vaccinate her baby during an immunization clinic at Phebe Hospital in central Liberia.Photo credit: Cindy Shiner/MSH

Stronger health systems are critical to preventing outbreaks from becoming epidemics. In fragile states, systems already weakened by conflict, disaster, or instability can crumble under the weight of an outbreak -- devastating access, availability, and quality of basic health for women and their families.

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 {Photo credit: Emily Phillips/MSH Afghanistan}A postnatal woman with her newborn and mother-in-law.Photo credit: Emily Phillips/MSH Afghanistan

Last month I represented Management Sciences for Health (MSH) at Oxfam India’s South Asia Consultation on Maternal Health in Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss significant maternal health programming experiences in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and to suggest strategic directions for Oxfam India’s future maternal health programming. More than 30 representatives from governments, national and international universities, and nongovernmental organizations attended.

Three elements of improving maternal health outcomes stood out in my mind from discussions at the meeting:

Celia Tusiime Kakande. {Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

For most of my life, women in Uganda---as in most countries---were treated as inferior to men. Girls were less likely to be educated than their brothers, and had little control over the direction of their lives. Many girls grew up being told how to act, eat, and talk; many women were regarded as little more than domestic caregivers. However, in 1986 the ruling government radically changed the dynamics of Ugandan women in global development and their participation in decision-making at all levels of government. This International Women’s Day we, in Uganda, are celebrating this transformation with a theme of “connecting girls, inspiring futures,” and wishing women around the world similar progress and success.

Women Lead: Government

Women in Uganda now hold more leadership positions than ever before—35 percent of the seats in Parliament are now occupied by women, and our Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Health are women. The introduction of universal primary education has allowed more girls to begin their schooling, and affirmative action at the university level has provided more women the opportunity to realize their dreams for fulfilling professional careers.

Celia Tusiime Kakande. {Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.}Photo: Tadeo Atuhura/MSH.

For most of my life, women in Uganda---as in most countries---were treated as inferior to men. Girls were less likely to be educated than their brothers, and had little control over the direction of their lives. Many girls grew up being told how to act, eat, and talk; many women were regarded as little more than domestic caregivers. However, in 1986 the ruling government radically changed the dynamics of Ugandan women in global development and their participation in decision-making at all levels of government. This International Women’s Day we, in Uganda, are celebrating this transformation with a theme of “connecting girls, inspiring futures,” and wishing women around the world similar progress and success.

Women Lead: Government

Women in Uganda now hold more leadership positions than ever before—35 percent of the seats in Parliament are now occupied by women, and our Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Health are women. The introduction of universal primary education has allowed more girls to begin their schooling, and affirmative action at the university level has provided more women the opportunity to realize their dreams for fulfilling professional careers.

A woman receiving antenatal care in South Sudan. {Photo credit: J. Warren/Save the Children.}Photo credit: J. Warren/Save the Children.

On a dark August night in rural South Sudan, Linda Kenneth felt the swift kick of labor pains begin. Having previously delivered five children, Linda recognized the pains and immediately called for the nearby skilled birth attendant, as it was too late in the evening for her to travel safely to the health facility. In her previous two pregnancies, she had experienced heavy bleeding after delivering, and worried similar complications might arise this time.

South Sudan has the world’s worst maternal mortality ratio (2,054 deaths per 100,000 live births), and roughly one third of these deaths can be attributed to postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). Administration of misoprostol or another uterotonic (a drug that reduces bleeding after childbirth) could prevent the majority of these deaths. Misoprostol does not require a cold supply chain, and is cheap and effective, making it a perfect candidate for community-based interventions.

Upon the birth attendant’s arrival, Linda presented the three misoprostol pills she had recently been given by a home health promoter. Several days prior, a home health promoter had visited Linda and discussed with her a birth preparedness plan, informing her of the benefits of taking misoprostol immediately after delivery to prevent excessive bleeding.

Senegal {Photo credit: Galdos/MSH.}Photo credit: Galdos/MSH.

Crossposted on Maternal Health Taskforce's mhtfblog as part of the Maternal Health Commodities Blog Series.

Despite a decade of significant progress reducing maternal mortality rates, very few countries are on target to meet Millennium Development Goal of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by 2015.

Togolese health hut. {Photo credit: S.Holtz/Peace Corps.}Photo credit: S.Holtz/Peace Corps.

The World Health Statistics 2012 report released this year reveals a mixed bag of amazing progress and underachievement.

The report --- the World Health Organization's (WHO) annual compilation of health-related data for its 194 Member States --- includes a summary of the progress made towards achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and associated targets.

Countries have achieved amazing success in some areas and little or no progress in others. Here are some highlights:

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.

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.

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