Saving Mothers, Saving Babies Raising the Status of Women Is the Best Way to Make Childbirth Safer

Article excerpt

Heavy bleeding, high blood pressure, pre-term labor, gestational diabetes -- all these can endanger the health of pregnant women and their babies. In most cases, medical intervention can save lives -- if it comes in time. In many places, it doesn't.

One of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals is to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio. According to its 2012 progress report, in "developing" countries the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births dropped to 240 in 2010 from 440 in 1990. Significant improvement, but this compares to 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in the United States. And in some countries, the figure is far worse. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average remains 500.

There is still so much to do.

Many maternal deaths are preventable with fairly basic medical care. Taking a pregnant woman's blood pressure and checking her weight throughout her pregnancy can alert health care providers to potential life-threatening conditions early enough to address them. But even these simple measures are often impossible due to a lack of basic medical resources -- blood pressure cuffs, scales, thermometers, stethoscopes, gloves.

In addition, in many resource-poor communities, pregnant women live too far from an equipped medical center to make prenatal care a practical reality. They may have to walk miles to a clinic or travel by boat, leaving their other children behind. Arduous travel may be impossible in the later months of pregnancy. At certain times of the year, roads become impassable even for foot traffic. Sometimes the trip is simply too costly.

There is also a more insidious and complicated obstacle to women receiving care: In many cultures, a woman must have permission from her husband to seek medical attention -- permission that is not always granted in a timely fashion, if at all.

The results of unattended births, especially when there has been no prenatal care, often include dead or injured mothers and dead or injured infants. Fistulas -- holes in the vaginal canal -- due to traumatic deliveries are common and can kill babies or cause paralysis and infections in mothers.

Despite these challenges, Global Links and its partners are helping to address access to care by equipping hospitals and birthing centers in resource-poor communities in Latin America and the Caribbean with the medical equipment and materials they need for pregnant women and newborns. …