Maternal health: Crucial yet ignored


  Tracking MDG-5

Himanshu Shekhar

In 2000, UNDP and a number of countries were ready to improve maternal health and reduce maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. This became Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number five. After ten year, even UNDP, the agency which launched MDG and which keeps track on it globally, has no clear data on the progress at this front. Its recent MDG report, 2010 cites, “Preliminary data show signs of progress, with some countries achieving significant declines in maternal mortality ratios. However, the rate of reduction is still well short of the 5.5 percent annual decline needed to meet the MDG target.”

The report is not giving a clear picture but it clearly indicates that it’s difficult to achieve MDG-5 by 2015. Maternal death is defined as death of women while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy or its management. According to some estimates, over half a million women die every year at childbirth or pregnancy-related causes.

It’s very shocking to know that more than 50 percent maternal deaths at childbirth occur in 6 countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. WHO estimates show that out of 529,000 maternal deaths globally each year, 136,000(25.7%) are contributed by India. In India, roughly one maternal death occurs every five minutes. According to the government, these deaths account for 15% of all deaths of women of reproductive age.

It is worth mentioning that without reducing the maternal mortality ratio, MDG-4 can not be achieved. These two goals are interlinked. In fact, maternal mortality leads to the death of newborns. A study conducted in Malawi reported a 3.35 times increased risk of death among children whose mothers had died, with most children’s deaths occurring during the very first year of their life. Researchers in Nepal reported that maternal death was associated with a 54-times increased risk of death of infants who were 4-24 weeks of age.

Some research papers on maternal mortality underlines obstructed labour, sepsis, haemorrhage, unsafe abortions, eclampsia and hypertensive disorders as main cause. Registrar General of India reported anemia as a major cause of maternal deaths, which is not reported from other countries. Apart from this, the prevalence of child marriage and early pregnancy, malnutrition, poor quality healthcare and inadequate access to family planning information and services are also responsible for maternal mortality.

To achieve MDG-5, it is very important to work with required commitment on MDG-3. MDG-3 is related to promotion of gender equity and this is directly linked with maternal mortality and at the root of this crisis is gender disparity. If the whole system starts giving respect and proper facility to the other half of population then maternal mortality ratio would definitely come down.

It doesn’t mean that the government is not responsible for India’s maternal mortality crisis. Government is ready to spend a lot of money on Common Wealth Games but when it comes to the basic problems of the common men, the whole government machinery starts crying about not having adequate money. However, government is running some schemes to improve the health of healthcare sector but at the ground level, these schemes are not working. If government is serious to achieve MDG-5 then this is high time to ensure proper implementation of all schemes related to healthcare sector.

This is the fifth article of a series on MDG. The next will appear on Monday.

You can also read previous posts here-

Child mortality reduction still a distant dream

Gender parity unlikely for India

Education is not for all

Poverty reduction remains sluggish

5 thoughts on “Maternal health: Crucial yet ignored

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