Now that we have apparently survived Swine Flu, maybe, possibly, we could turn our attention to existing and very curable pandemics…This year on Mother’s Day, please take time not only to honor your own Mother, but also the more than 500,000 women who lose their lives every year to maternal morbidity. According to the World Health Organization,
In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.
Five direct complications account for more than 70% of maternal deaths: haemorrhage (25%), infection (15%), unsafe abortion (13%), eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures – 12%), and obstructed labour (8%). While these are the main causes of maternal death, unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible. They are detrimental to social development and wellbeing, as some one million children are left motherless each year. These children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers’ death.
The vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to quality family planning services, skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery, or post-abortion care services and where permissible, safe abortion services. 15% of pregnancies and childbirths need emergency obstetric care because of risks that are difficult to predict. A working health system with skilled personnel is key to saving these women’s lives.
What is particularly frustrating here is that there is a plan for eradicating this terribly unnecessary pandemic. It is called Millenium Development Goal 5 which is to improve maternal health. Yet of all the MDG’s, MDG 5 has made the least amount of progress.
More than 500,000 women die each year from complications of pregnancy or childbirth; 99% of these deaths occur in the developing world, with rural and poor women and women in conflict zones at greatest risk. Even nations with low aggregate maternal death rates show huge disparities, suggesting discrimination against low-income and marginalized groups. In spite of the goals established in 2000, the rate of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth declined less than 1% per year from 1990 to 2005, whereas an annual decline of at least 5.5% is needed to meet Goal 5.
As the MDG Gateway site points out, what is required is a human rights perspective on this systemically intractable problem:
Preventable maternal deaths are caused by the deprivation of basic rights of women. Failure to provide available, accessible, acceptable and quality health care, including emergency obstetric care, for women during pregnancy and childbirth is a violation of women’s rights to life, health, equality and non-discrimination. Respect and protection of women’s rights to information and decision-making in reproductive health, to freedom from gender-based discrimination and violence, and to participation in planning and implementing health policies are essential to make pregnancy and delivery safer for women.
And as the WHO website points out, MDG 5 is by definition crucially related to achieving the other MDG’s,
MDG 5 is related to other MDGs. As maternal mortality strongly affects newborn mortality, progress on MDG 5 will also influence the efforts to reduce child mortality (MDG 4). Progress on MDG 5 is also linked to MDG 6, which aims to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, as these are important indirect causes of maternal death. Gender inequality is one of the social determinants at the heart of inequity in health. Progress in achieving MDG 3, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, will help in achieving MDG 5. Maternal mortality is a sensitive indicator of inequality, as current statistics show that the poorest and least educated women have the highest risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth. Increasing primary education (MDG 2) for girls and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1) are means to empower women and will positively influence the achievement of MDG 5.
So enough already. While in no way minimizing the potential risk of some new viral disease, we already have a Real Life Happening Right Now Pandemic of human rights neglect and it is killing more than half a million women every year and impacting the health of millions more and we have the ability to stop it. Before we get distracted by yet another perceived threat, let’s stop the ones that really exist right now.
And here’s the best part, in global economic terms, the cost of making this happen is a bargain! According to UNFPA, the cost of all eight of the Millenium Development Goals would be $64.7 billion dollars. Of that,
The total 2010 costs for sexual and reproductive health, which include family planning and maternal health, are estimated at $27.4 billion; $32.5 billion for HIV/AIDS; and $4.8 billion for basic research, data collection and policy analysis.
Okay, that is a lot of money, but not really if you put it in perspective. It is less than 4% of the $700 billion bailout package and less than 5% of the $664 billion Department of Defense 2010 Budget Request. And it is going to save lives instead of destroying them and is guaranteed not to be spent on golf outings and corporate jets.
Sounds like darned good value for the money to me. So I don’t know about you, but instead of a brand new something I probably don’t need in the first place, what I’d really like for Mother’s Day is to fund MDG 5 and oh heck, at those prices, just fund all 8 of them!