Maternal Health

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Maternal health


Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. It encompasses the health care dimensions of family planning, preconception, prenatal, and postnatal care in order to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality.

Preconception care can include education, health promotion, screening and other interventions among women of reproductive age to reduce risk factors that might affect future pregnancies. The goal of prenatal care is to detect any potential complications of pregnancy early, to prevent them if possible, and to direct the woman to appropriate specialist medical services as appropriate. Postnatal care issues include recovery from childbirth, concerns about newborn care, nutrition, breastfeeding, and family planning.

Problems

Maternal health clinic in Afghanistan

In many developing countries, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among women of reproductive age. A woman dies from complications from childbirth approximately every minute. According to the World Health Organization, in its World Health Report 2005, poor maternal conditions account for the fourth leading cause of death for women worldwide, after HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Most maternal deaths and injuries are caused by biological processes, not from disease, which can be prevented and have been largely eradicated in the developed world - such as postpartum hemorrhaging, which causes 34% of maternal deaths in the developing world but only 13% of maternal deaths in developed countries.

Although high-quality, accessible health care has made maternal death a rare event in developed countries, where only 1% of maternal deaths occur, these complications can often be fatal in the developing world because single most important intervention for safe motherhood is to make sure that a trained provider with midwifery skills is present at every birth, that transport is available to referral services, and that quality emergency obstetric care is available. In 2008 342,900 women died while pregnant or from childbirth worldwide. Although a high number, this was a significant drop from 1980, when 526,300 women died from the same causes. This improvement was caused by lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled birth attendants” — people with training in basic and emergency obstetric care — to help women give birth. The situation was especially led by improvements in large countries like India and China, which helped to drive down the overall death rates. In India, the government started paying for prenatal and delivery care to ensure access, and saw successes in reducing maternal mortality, so much so that India is cited as the major reason for the decreasing global rates of maternal mortality.

One specific disease that causes significant maternal health problems is HIV/AIDS. Mother to child transmission of HIV in the developing world is a large concern; approximately 45% of infected mothers transmit the disease to their children and HIV is a major cause of maternal mortality, causing 60,000 maternal deaths in 2008. HIV rates are especially high in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa, where maternal mortality rates are on the rise.

Maternal health problems also include complications from childbirth that do not result in death. For every woman that dies during childbirth, approximately 20 suffer from infection, injury, or disability.

Almost 50% of the births in developing countries still take place without a medically skilled attendant to aid the mother, and the ratio is even higher in South Asia. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa mainly rely on traditional birth attendants (TBAs), who have little or no formal health care training. In recognition of their role, some countries and non-governmental organizations are making efforts to train TBAs in maternal health topics, in order to improve the chances for better health outcomes among mothers and babies.

Proposed solutions

The World Bank estimated that a total of 3.00 US dollars per person a year can provide basic family planning, maternal and neonatal health care to women in developing countries. Many non-profit organizations have programs educating the public and gaining access to emergency obstetric care for mothers in developing countries. The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) recently began its Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), focusing on providing quality healthcare to mothers. One of the programs within CARMMA is Sierra Leone providing free healthcare to mothers and children. This initiative has widespread support from African leaders and was started in conjunction with the African Union Health Ministers.

Improving maternal health is the 5th of the 8 United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, targeting a reduction in the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth by three quarters by 2015, notably by increasing the usage of skilled birth attendants, contraception and family planning. The current decline of maternal deaths is only half of what is necessary to achieve this goal, and in several regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa the maternal mortality rate is actually increasing. Decreasing the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in developing countries is important because poor maternal health is both an indicator and a cause of extreme poverty. According to Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank:

"Maternal deaths are both caused by poverty and are a cause of it. The costs of childbirth can quickly exhaust a family’s income, bringing with it even more financial hardship."

Developed countries had rates of maternal mortality similar to those of developing countries until the early 20th century, therefore several lessons can be learned from the west. During the 19th century Sweden had high levels of maternal mortality, and there was a strong support within the country to reduce mortality rate to fewer than 300 per 100,000 live births. The Swedish government began public health initiatives to train enough midwives to attend all births. This approach was also later used by Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands who also experienced similar successes.

Increasing contraceptive usage and family planning also improves maternal health through reduction in numbers of higher risk pregnancies. In Nepal a strong emphasis was placed on providing family planning to rural regions and it was shown to be effective. Madagascar saw a dramatic increase in contraceptive use after instituting a nationwide family planning program, the rate of contraceptive use increased from 5.1% in 1992 to 29% in 2008.

Global Situation

Worldwide, the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) has decreased, with South-East Asia seeing the most dramatic decrease of 59% and Africa seeing a decline of 27%. There are no regions that are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of decreasing maternal mortality by 75% by the year 2015.

The latest MMR estimates by country and region are available on the website of MDG Monitor: www.mdgmonitor.org.