Monday, October 20, 2003

Childbirth: the other MMR

A new report prepared by the World Health Organisation and UN agencies demonstrates starkly the impact of poverty and underdevelopment on childbirth.

The report estimates the number of women who die in childbirth annually as 529,000. Of these, 95 percent live in Africa and Asia. Less than one percent of deaths in childbirth occur in the developed world. For example, the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) for Europe is 24 deaths per 100,000 live births. In Africa as a whole, the figure is 830 deaths per 100,000 live births. In other words, a pregnancy in Africa is 35 times more likely to result in death than a pregnancy in Europe. Add to this the fact that African women usually have more pregnancies, and the lifetime risk of death in childbirth for some African women is 175 times greater than for women in the developed world. There are a number of factors which contribute to this problem, but the organisations that produced the report have emphasised the lack of trained medical staff as the biggest problem. Where 'skilled attenders' are available to assist with the birth and spot potential complications, death rates fall dramatically. While Western women often fret about 'natural' childbirth, this report illustrates the degree to which large numbers of lives could be saved by introducing basic medical intervention to those who do not have access to it. The problem with the 'developing' world is that it isn't developing fast enough.

Africa childbirth deaths 'unacceptable', BBC News, 20 October 2003

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