maternal health, pregnancy, healthy pregnancy, 
maternal health in developing countries

Is Maternal Health Finally Getting the Attention It Deserves?

July 22, 2009 05:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Maternal health is a long-neglected issue in developing countries, but the Obama administration, activists and aid organizations appear to be moving things forward.

Huge Discrepancy in Care

According to NPR, Afghanistan, which has the world's second highest maternal and child mortality rate, will receive half a billion dollars in family planning and maternal health funding from the United States next year. While some fear the plan is a shift away from HIV and AIDS funding, experts say maternal health care can be improved rather easily and at a modest cost. 

Nils Daulaire, a senior fellow at the Global Health Council, told NPR, "This is not the kind of huge investment that we have been talking about in the AIDS treatment arena where the drugs are expensive and challenging to administer."

Although improvements to maternal health care may not cost as much as other health causes, political red tape can get in the way. According to Brenda Wilson of NPR, there is "growing tension between those who see foreign aid as a way of helping poor countries and others who think it should serve foreign policy objectives," which could impede maternal health efforts in places like Peru, for example.

The United Nations estimates that 240 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth in Peru, compared with just nine for every 100,000 women in wealthier developed countries, CNN reports.

Such statistics are especially troubling considering the range of options offered to women in the U.S. According to Chen May Yee of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, women giving birth at some hospitals in Minnesota can have rooms outfitted "with whirlpool tubs and wi-fi," or "can hire a massage therapist or a portrait photographer." Yee reports that such glamorous accommodations "are part of a major marketing offensive by hospitals to win a coveted demographic: mothers."

Background: World progress on maternal health

On July 11, the 20th anniversary of World Population Day provided an opportunity to focus on maternal health, particularly in struggling sub-Saharan Africa. According to The World Bank, a three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality rates and "universal access to reproductive health services" are two Millennium Development Goals of the international community to be achieved by 2015.

The World Bank reports that "many countries have made progress in reducing maternal mortality and lowering fertility rates" by implementing improved family planning access, and ensuring that health facilities are overseen by "trained birth attendants." Egypt and Bangladesh have made significant improvements while other countries, such as Ghana, have not. But "[r]egular doctor visits, sonograms and various tests" that are seen in "routine prenatal care for pregnant women in developed countries" could vastly improve the situation.

Opinion & Analysis: Maternal health fund necessary?

A column in The Huffington Post by supermodel-turned-activist Liya Kebede suggests the need for a "Global Fund for Maternal Health" similar to programs for HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. Kebede urges "a coordinated global effort to hold nations accountable for their promises, to synthesize disparate efforts, to leverage existing resources, and to report back on results, providing confidence that resources are well used."

In an op-ed for The Hill, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) makes the case for improving maternal health in Africa. "[I]n order for Africa to make this long-forestalled progress, a renewed promise must be made to provide highly cost-effective solutions to ensure that women are healthy before, during and after pregnancy." Moore has lobbied congress for increased efforts "to improve maternal health in developing countries."

Reference: World Health Organization maternal health information

The World Health Organization provides international maternal mortality statistics from 2005, outlining causes, solutions, reasons why mothers don't get the care they need and how orphaned babies are cared for.

According to WHO, "99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, where 85% of the population lives. More than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and one third in South Asia." There are also significant income-based maternal health disparities "within countries," and disparities between mothers in "rural and urban populations."

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