The Maternal Health Care Crisis: How Strategies Are Evolving
By Kathleen O’Toole
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. By UNICEF’s estimate, a woman dies from childbirth complications every minute. Young girls are particularly at risk. In developing countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. While a young girl’s risk of maternal death in a developed country stands at one in 3700, in a developing region her risk would stand at one in 160.
It is worth noting that the effects of this tragedy extend well beyond the women and young girls directly impacted by the crisis. Maternal health and newborn health are closely linked, with nearly 3 million newborns dying every year, not counting the 2.6 stillbirths resulting from these complications. According to UNICEF, at least 20 percent of the burden of disease in children below the age of 5 is related to poor maternal health and nutrition, including quality of care both during and after delivery. In developing countries, households where the mother has died suffer greatly in terms of education, nutrition, and economic health. In regions where the problem is rampant, the effects are inevitably felt by the community at large.
In developed nations, where access to proper health care can be taken for granted, the fact that this problem even exists can be mind-boggling. However, the causes contributing to this issue are not only deeply ingrained, but surprisingly varied. The good news is, this means that there are multiple approaches available to help solve this issue, making pregnancy and childbirth safer for women and girls across the world. As we plunge forward into the 21st century, international goals and priorities are evolving to meet this crisis head-on and eliminate it with the help of NGOs, educators, government involvement, and a global approach to medical care.
What Lies Behind the Problem
According to UNICEF, roughly 15% of pregnancies and births require emergency care, as the most dangerous complications that could arise are notoriously difficult to predict. Among these complications, the ones that take the greatest toll include:
Severe bleeding following childbirth
Infection, usually following childbirth
High blood pressure during pregnancy
Complications from unsafe abortions
Iron deficiency and anemia during pregnancy
Complications from diseases such as malaria and AIDS
With proper medical care readily available, these issues can be monitored and treated with relative ease. However, many citizens in developing nations live without access to such resources. Particularly in poor and rural areas, families lack even basic information on matters such as nutrition, family planning, and hygiene. Certain deeply ingrained cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, a ban on contraception, barring certain kinds of medical treatment, and the marrying off of young girls before their bodies have fully matured, contribute greatly to the issue.
In their report on the maternal health care crisis, UNICEF recommends a series of basic strategies to combat the impact of such cultural practices, making lives safer for women and young girls without disrespecting the culture in which they were raised. They include nutritional support, HIV counselling, and disease prevention through immunization and awareness.
However, the most notable strategy on their list may be education. In stating their case for improving educational access for young girls in developing nations, UNICEF asserts that getting girls to school results in improved self esteem, better chances of avoiding unwanted pregnancy, greater chances of avoiding HIV infection, a heightened awareness and more successful avoidance of violence and exploitation, and a greater likelihood of spreading improved health and sanitation practices throughout their homes and communities at large.
In addressing the maternal mortality rates in developing countries, World Bank offers recommendations with a much broader scope. They include:
Developing more effective and efficient national health systems
Motivating young people to delay pregnancy and achieve higher levels of education
Supporting the increased use of reproductive health services
Tying financing to performance in maternal health programs
Protecting impoverished women from poor health by making treatment accessible and affordable
Setting Goals for Action
As the fifth of eight Millenium Development Goals established by the UN at the start of the millenium, the effort to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 75% by 2015 fell tragically short. While maternal health has improved substantially since 1999, this goal saw far less progress than its counterparts, reaching only half of its projected success.
In January 2015, The Guardian reported on a new set of goals in progress. Designed to replace the Millenium Development Goals, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are set to start implementation later this year. While improving maternal health is no longer on the list, it has not been forgotten. The fifth goal on the list currently reads, “To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” It features a list of nine recommended steps, including four in particular that would go a long way toward eradicating preventable deaths from pregnancy and childbirth:
Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriages along with female genital mutilations
Eliminate the sexual trafficking and exploitation of young girls
Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and reproductive rights
Enhance the use of enabling technologies, particularly ICT, to educate and empower
Immediate Help in a Long-Term Process
While these strategies are promising, they will most likely take years to implement. In the meantime, immediate aid is required to save as many lives as possible. Several NGOs have taken up the cause, providing assistance, edu
medical care to regions most in need. In the few short months since its founding, CSR Match has already established a few projects set to provide relevant aid in regions particularly affected by this global, yet under-recognized issue. Two in particular are providing practical maternal health care assistance to nations across the globe:
IMA World Health’s Safe Motherhood Kit Project aims to reduce childbirth-related infection in developing countries by sending kits of necessary supplies to hospitals and clinics in areas such as Haiti and South Sudan.
Direct Relief’s Midwife Kit Program equips trained midwives across the globe with the needed
supplies to ensure safe and clean deliveries, with the goal of achieving 150 thousand safe births by the end of 2015.
By supporting projects such as these, corporations can take assurance in the knowledge that their donations will go a long way toward saving lives immediately as the long-term solutions develop and take effect. As the women and girls in
these regions gain access to the care they need, and survival rates improve, so will the survival rates of their children and families. With greater family health will come thriving communities, strengthened economies, and improved development in regions across the globe. The ripple effect of this issue is truly astounding, proving it well worth the investment for both immediate and long-term results.
Links to Referenced Sources:
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jan/14/womens-rights-gender-equality-sustainable-development-goals