Every now and again, I get in a mathematical frame of mind. So today I offer you this math problem:
(.13 x 1,000) x 365 = ?
I’ll give y’all a few minutes to get out those calculators…okay times up. Everyone come up with 47,450?
Now let’s talk about what that number is. Every day, 1000 women fall victim to maternal mortality, about 365,000 women per year (although some put that figure higher, nearer 500,000/yr.). Almost all of those deaths are preventable.
According to the United Nations, there are three things we could be doing to stop maternal mortality, they are:
1. Strengthening health systems
Women are more than just mothers, and improving the health care they receive throughout their lives improves their health as mothers, too.
It doesn’t get donor support because compared to targeting a specific disease, health system strengthening is not as sexy. (And takes a while to explain.) Improving the Ministry of Health’s ability to allocated health care funds is nowhere near as photogenic as distributing prenatal vitamins.
2. Improving access to safe abortion
Unsafe abortion accounts for 13% of maternal deaths. When you add that to the number of women who die giving birth to unwanted pregnancies, it becomes clear that access to safe abortion would radically improve the health of mothers.
Access to safe abortions doesn’t get funded because abortion is incredibly controversial, and no donor will be associated with it.
3. Supporting access to contraception
It’s safer not to be pregnant than it is to be pregnant. Across the board, in all circumstances. You know what helps with that? Contraceptives. Yet 200 million women around the world want to control their family size and have no access to contraception.
Contraception does get donor support, but it’s hard to improve access because there are so many barriers. The barrier might be access to a health care provider, money, or a whole pile of other things. For example, even if a woman can easily get free contraception from a provider, she may not be allowed to use it by a husband or mother-in-law. Use of contraception is tied to women’s roles in society, and that doesn’t change overnight.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that 13% might not sound like all that big a number but it translates to 47,450 women dead every year because we can not get our collective act together to provide them a safe way to end their pregnancies. We need to quit thinking of abortion as something that is too controversial to be included in discussions of how to provide global reproductive health. The truth is that it is essential and tens of thousands of women are dying every year because we refuse to accept that truth and it is time, once and for all, for that to stop. Learn more about Millennium Goal 5, Improving Maternal Health here.