Unsafe motherhood exposed

Posted: 13 February 2003

Of all the statistics monitored by the World Health Organization, maternal mortality is the one with the largest discrepancy between developed and developing countries, according to Making Pregnancy and Childbirth Safer, the latest of a series of Fact Sheets on reproductive health in Asia.

In Nepal, for example, 1,500 women die as a result of pregnancy and complications of childbirth for every 100,000 live births. This compares to about 6 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in Switzerland. In South-east Asia, one in every 55 women die from pregnancy-related complications, compared to one in every 8,700 women in Switzerland.

The new Fact Sheet is a product of the EC/UNFPA Initiative for Reproductive Health in Asia launched in 1997 with over 60 local partners. It is carrying out over 40 projects in seven Asian countries - Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Young women in Asia are especially at risk, says the Fact Sheet. Pregnancy-related complications are the main cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19, who are twice as likely to die from childbirth as women in their 20s. Those aged under 15 are five times as likely to die. In Bangladesh, 860 girls aged 15 to 19 die from maternal causes for every 100,000 live births - a mortality rate nearly 80 per cent higher than that of women aged 20 to 34.

If these statistics are to improve, women and adolescents must be accorded the right and access to good quality information and care throughout the reproductive life span, says RHI. Basic antenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care could cost as little as $2 per person per year. In addition, communities and families need to support girls education and delayed marriage and childbearing. Also essential is redressing widespread female poverty, gender discrimination and inequality, and customs or laws that restrict women's power to make decisions, including about health care.