Pregnant Women In Poverty Often Die Needlessly

Illustration for article titled Pregnant Women In Poverty Often Die Needlessly

Reading depressing statistics can be numbing. Your eyes glaze over, you feel paralyzed with woe, and yet how else can one convey the details of a global crisis? So here goes: Worldwide, 500,000 women die in childbirth every year; more than 90 percent live in Africa or Asia, and almost all are poor, according to The Washington Post. In Sudan, one in 50 women die during childbirth. That's 2,030 dead mothers per 100,000 births. In Haiti, 100 out of every 100,000 pregnant women die (down from 1,400 per 100,000. The US maternal mortality rate is 14 per 100,000.) The UN would like to reduce maternal mortality by 75% by the year 2015, but progress is already probably too slow to meet that goal. The thing is, some solutions that would save lives are simple and low-tech. For instance:

A product known as LifeWrap can stabilize a woman who is hemorrhaging. It's like a partial wet suit, made of neoprene and Velcro, costs $160 and can be used 50 times. (The company gladly accepts donations.) A study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health also found a relatively inexpensive way to treat mothers and reduce blood loss. Researchers reduced the number and severity of episiotomies at public hospitals in Latin America and increased the use of the hormone oxytocin - which is given to mothers to make their uterus shrink and bleed less during the third stage of labor. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl of Partners in Health, have been working in Haiti and Rwanda, where health care for women (and especially girls) is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Writes Dr. Famer: "Obscene though it is, death during childbirth isn't the end of the story. In the world's poorest areas, many orphaned children wind up destitute and on the streets within a few years of their mothers' deaths, sometimes resorting to desperate or criminal measures for food, shelter, clothes or school fees."


Brigid McConville is the director of White Ribbon Alliance in London, an international organization to promote safe motherhood. She notes that African women have a 1 in 16 chance of dying from a pregnancy, compared with 1 in 1,400 in Europe. ""These are needless and preventable deaths. This is not a strange illness that requires science to find a cure," McConville says. "If you get it right for mothers, you've got the health staff in place in the community, you've got the referral system to the next level, you've got the operating theater, the anesthetist, the electricity and communications. All of this will benefit a man with a broken leg or a child with a respiratory illness."

The only question here is this: If saving the lives of pregnant women increases the heath of humans on a global level, why doesn't the cause get more attention? And why can't we meet the goal the UN has set?

Battling To Take Death Out Of Birth In Africa [Reuters]
Simple Innovation Saves Women's Lives [Our Bodies Our Blog]
Keeping New Mothers Alive [Washington Post]
Related: LifeWraps [University Of California San Francisco]
Partners In Health
White Ribbon Alliance



Another thing I just remembered: I was watching a documentary program on PBS a while back on child brides, and one of their case studies was a girl in Africa. I can't remember which country specifically, but it was one of the French-speaking ones. Anyway, she was in a facility where a lot of girls and women lived who'd been married off very young and had all sorts of health problems due to having been put through childbirth at too young an age. This particular girl's bladder had been destroyed and she could only barely walk with the assistance of a stick, and she was only about 15. And she was one of the "lucky" ones, after she'd been in labor for 4 days her family finally took her to a hospital, where she lost the baby but they saved her life. So in addition to a lack of decent medical care, there are doubtless some who are too young and whose bodies just can't handle childbirth.