Death from Delivery - It Doesn't Have to Be This Way


Healthy women and babies are dying from something natural and manageable – giving birth. In the poorest parts of the world, a woman's lifetime risk of death from complications during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 6, compared to as little as 1 in 30,000 in Northern Europe.

Why? As reporter Kevin Sullivan reports from Sierra Leone, where a woman”s chance of dying in childbirth is 1 in 8, in his excellent October 12 Washington Post article, "A Mother”s Final Look at Life":

"The women die from bleeding, infection, obstructed labor and preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. But often the underlying cause is simply life in poor countries: Governments don't provide enough decent hospitals or doctors; families can't afford medications."

“Before a Caesarian section or other surgeries can start, the patient's family must hurry out and buy medicines, IV fluids and bags, catheters, blood for transfusions and surgical gloves for the doctors and nurses.’

And this takes place only after the dangerously pregnant woman has often spent hours on the back of a motorcycle, in the truck of a bed, or walking, trying to reach the medical center, and then additional hours waiting to be seen by one of the facility”s doctors. Case in point: Sierra Leone”s best maternity hospital had only two specialists in obstetrics and gynecology when Kevin visited.

More than 90% of maternal deaths take place in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of obstetric complications are treatable, and a half a million deaths a year (one per minute) could be prevented if governments, donors, and communities brought political will and appropriate resources to bear. Despite reductions in some countries, the persisting failure of health systems to stem these needless deaths ultimately reflects the low status of women and institutionalized neglect.

Avoidable maternal death is a violation of women”s most fundamental human right. We know what works to prevent it’”after all, pregnancy is not like a disease we cannot cure. Women need access to family planning to plan and space their pregnancies; a doctor, midwife or nurse to attend delivery; and quality management of the obstetric complications that Kevin saw in Sierra Leone. We need the engagement of communities and families in making sure transportation is available. And we need governments to stand up for women with the political and financial commitments to make this happen. We know that women are critical to development’”as citizens, as workers, as parents.

We know it is possible’”we have seen substantial reductions of the maternal mortality ratio in countries such as Egypt, Malaysia, and Honduras, and progress in countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Bolivia’”because the political will was there. CARE has pledged to reduce maternal mortality as one of its key priorities. Through the Mothers Matter program CARE is mobilizing resources to reduce barriers to quality health care, empower women, and alter political and social norms around "dying in childbirth."

We applaud Mr. Sullivan and the Washington Post for the article and its front-page placement and for helping to break down complacency about this issue.

We also encourage all of you interested in making a difference to take action now by sending a letter to the next President of the United States urging him to make global health and global poverty a priority in his administration.