No woman should die giving life - UNFPA
In this 21st century, when medical science and gender empowerment are
rising progressively, “no woman should die giving life”, declares
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
“It is unacceptable that one woman dies every minute during pregnancy
and childbirth when proven interventions exist,” she adds. “Millions of
lives are at stake, and we must act now.”
Obaid will be one of the keynote speakers at a major international
conference in London that will call for increased investments for health
care for women, mothers and newborns.
The three-day conference, scheduled to take place on Oct.18-20, is
expected to have more than 1,500 participants, including health care
professionals, high-level delegates and ministers from 35 developing
countries and donor nations, advocates of women’s rights and senior U.N.
“We will press all concerned to take unified action to improve the
lives and health of women, mothers and newborn babies all over the
world,” Obaid told IPS.
“We know what is needed to save women from dying. Three simple
interventions: Skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and
family planning,” she added.
Jessica Neuwirth, president of the New York-based women’s rights
group Equality Now, says “the huge disparity in maternal mortality rates
gives the loss of life through childbirth a political dimension.”
These deaths are preventable and the failure of governments to
prevent them is a violation of women’s right to life, the most
fundamental human right, she added.
“Governments must be held accountable for their deadly inaction in
addressing maternal mortality”, Neuwirth told IPS.
June Zeitlin, executive director of the New York-based Women’s
Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), says the fact that
there has been so little progress on maternal mortality is another
indication of the gap between rhetoric and reality on gender equality.
While governments and the United Nations have made many commitments
to address gender equality, including in the U.N.’s Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs), they have not effectively backed up this
commitment with political will or the resources necessary to achieve
this goal, she added.
“The fact that so many countries will fail to meet either the goal on
poverty reduction or on maternal mortality is a result in part of
failing to take into account the need to address gender equality,”
Zeitlin told IPS.
The persistent discrimination and inequalities faced by women are
inextricably related to their lack of resources and impede their ability
to access health services.
“Reducing maternal mortality and poverty — in other words, sound
development policy — requires a substantial investment in reducing
gender inequality now,” she declared.
The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and
hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality;
reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal
mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria
and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and
developing a North-South global partnership for development.
A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to
meet all of these goals by the year 2015. But their implementation has
been thwarted primarily by lack of resources and political will. The
London conference, titled “Women Deliver”, will have as its theme:
“Invest in Women — It Pays”.
In a statement issued last week, UNFPA said the world’s maternal
mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)
is declining too slowly to meet one of the eight U.N. Millennium
Development Goals (MDG 5), which aims to improve maternal health and
prevent women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth.
While an annual decline of 5.5 percent in maternal mortality ratios
between 1990 and 2015 is required to achieve MDG 5, the latest
statistics released jointly by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the
U.N. Children’s Fund, UNFPA and the World Bank show an annual decline of
less than one percent.
In 2005, 536,000 women died of maternal causes, compared to 576,000
in 1990. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occurred in developing
countries. The probability that a 15-year-old girl will die from a
complication related to pregnancy and childbirth during her lifetime is
highest in Africa: 1 in 26.
In the developed regions, it is one in 7,300. Of all 171 countries
and territories for which estimates were made, Niger had the highest
estimated lifetime risk of one in seven. Eleven countries accounted for
almost 65 percent of global maternal deaths in 2005.
India had the largest number (117,000), followed by Nigeria (59,000),
the Democratic Republic of Congo (32,000) and Afghanistan (26,000),
according to the latest statistics released here.
At the midway point in the timeline to achieve the Millennium
Development Goals, UNFPA’s Obaid said, “It is time to accelerate
investments in women’s health and rights. It is time for governments to
make reproductive health a priority.”
According to UNFPA, an additional estimated annual investment of
between 5.5 billion dollars and 6.1 billion dollars is required by 2015
from domestic and international sources to meet the target of improving
Some additional funding will also be needed to meet the target of
universal access to reproductive health under MDG 5.
These investments would also reduce child mortality, assist with
reducing the malaria burden and mitigate HIV-AIDS through its effect on
HIV prevention and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies among
HIV-positive women, UNFPA said.