Neglected tragedy of unsafe motherhood

Picture credit: © Nancy Durrell McKenna

This mother, pictured in the remote Upper East Region of Ghana, has benefited from the help of a trained Traditional Birth Attendant in giving birth safely to her baby daughter.

In this she is fortunate, for of every 100,000 live births in Ghana, 740 women die from causes relating to the pregnancy. Fewer than half receive any pre-natal care. And for every woman who dies another 30 will incur injuries, infections and disabilities, which are often humiliating, painful, debilitating and lifelong.

This contrasts starkly with the situation in the more developed countries such as Britain, where the maternal mortality rate is only nine per 100,000 women, and where care before, during and after pregnancy is almost universal.

This scandalous contrast in healthy childbearing, between rich and poor countries, has persisted despite much talk about ‘safe motherhood’ and detailed commitments at the Cairo Population Conference in 1994 to spend $17 billion a year by 2000 on reproductive health and related activities. One-third of this (about $5.7 billion) was to be provided by developed countries. In 2003, aid for such work was less than $2 billion.

As a result nearly 600,000 women, many still in their ‘teens, continue to die each year in extreme pain and without medical help, from haemorrhaging blood, botched abortions, the convulsions of eclampsia or severe anaemia.

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