India, despite Poor Health Care, Sees Drop in Maternal Mortality

Article excerpt

Maternal mortality in India has fallen by 60 percent since 1980, despite widespread poverty and skeletal health care. The progress surprised some health-care workers.

It is rare good news for poor women in India. A new report has found a significant drop in the rate at which women across the world die as a result of childbirth - with one of the most dramatic falls in India.

Maternal deaths in India decreased from 677 per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 254 in 2008, according to a study published in the Lancet, a leading British medical journal, in April.

This contributed to a global fall of 35 percent to 251 per 100,000 live births, found a research team led by Christopher Murray at the University of Washington.

"The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress," wrote the Lancet's editor, Richard Horton.

The reasons for the drop in India are broadly the same as those worldwide: improved prenatal care and the presence, during labor, of skilled medical professionals. Improved access to education - which makes women more likely to know how to care for themselves and their children - has also made a difference.

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Surprised by progress

Many health-care workers in India are surprised that such an improvement occurred here. Despite a booming economy that has grown at a heady 9 percent in recent years, social inequalities are growing and a skeletal health-care system remains woefully inadequate for the needs of a billion-plus, still largely rural, population.

The study's authors point out in the report that researching maternal mortality rates in India is complicated by the country's numerous - sometimes conflicting - data sources. But they conclude that the most reliable sources did suggest "a substantial decrease in maternal mortality."

Medical professionals cite as particularly beneficial a government scheme designed to supplement a network of doctors and medical centers that is patchy at best and in many areas nonexistent. …