Friday, October 19, 2007

Half A Million Deaths

This is the number of women who die each year in a way we summarize as maternal mortality:

Giving birth can be fatal for women in many countries of the world.

Around half a million women die annually before, during or shortly after giving birth - and almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries.

Campaigners argue that these deaths are both preventable and have repercussions that echo far beyond the woman's immediate family and community.

"We know exactly what needs to be done to save women's lives," the chief of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Thoraya Obaid told the BBC News website.

And yet, since 1990, the level of maternal mortality has decreased by less than 1% per year, far from enough to reach an internationally agreed goal of a 75% reduction by 2015.

The leading killers during pregnancy or childbirth include massive blood loss, high blood pressure, an unsafe abortion, an untreated infection and obstructed labour - where the woman's body is too small for the baby to pass through the birth canal.

But the reasons why these issues have not been tackled are political, rather than medical.

And what are these political reasons? The most important one is the unimportance of the women most at risk. They are poor and tend to live in societies where women have few rights. Even those who try to justify the use of greater resources to help these women must bring in arguments about the children or the family in general:

If a mother is ill or dies, the baby is less likely to survive and her other children less likely to be healthy and educated.

The second political reason has to do with the current United States policies in giving international aid. Anything containing the term "reproductive health" is seen as a codeword for abortion and shunned by the Bush administration. The money then tends to go into avenues which focus on abstinence, say, and women without many rights can't enforce their own abstinence.

Granted, these problems are mostly political and not medical. But the poorest countries do have limited health resources in general. I wonder if these resources are allocated in the best possible manner and if the low value of women (and of children, in countries with many children) is part of the explicit decision making in those allocations.
Thanks to TheaLogie for the link.