Maternal Health Challenges Include Mortality and Morbidity

  • Every year about 536,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes, 99% of these are in developing countries.
  • The risk of a woman in some parts of Africa dying in childbirth is 1 in 7 vs. some countries in Europe it is 1 in 17,000
  • Maternal morbidity is an even bigger issue – over 10 million women each year suffer complications from childbirth which include obstetrical fistula, depression, infertility and impoverishment

We often talk about maternal mortality but the truth is, more women are disabled by childbirth than those who die from childbirth.  One of the complications is uterine prolapse.  According to the UNFPA website, uterine prolapse is often called  ‘fallen womb’, …a debilitating condition in which the supporting pelvic structure of muscles, tissue, and ligaments gives way, and the uterus drops into or even out of the vagina. This can limit a woman’s mobility, making it impossible for her to perform routine household chores or have sex. The condition is often accompanied by chronic back pains and urinary incontinence. Many women who suffer from it are abandoned by their husbands and end up as social outcasts in their own communities.

Other complications such as infertility, anemia, chronic infection and even depression have a significant impact on maternal health and well-being. These conditions often lead to social isolation, marital problems, difficulties with chores and challenges in maintaining a job for income, which then lead to a shortened life often lived in poverty.

A simple intervention that would have the biggest impact on mortality AND morbidity is a skilled birth attendant. In fact, this is one of the Millenium Goals. In sub-saharan Africa where nearly half of maternal deaths occur, only 46% of women give birth with a skilled birth attendant.  Rural women are far more likely to give birth without an attendant. The numbers show that lack of a birth attendant reflects a failing health system.

Global interventions should start by providing access to a skilled birth attendant for rural women in developing countries.  This one intervention would address two of our most pressing priorities in global health – maternal health (which includes mortality AND morbidity) and ineffective health care systems.

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