Monday, 14 November 2005 06:00

Question & Answer with Director Africa Division, United Nations Population Fund

Written by Juliana Omale
According to the Director of the Africa Division, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Fama Hane Ba, improving maternal mortality is directly related to goal 1: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, goal 4: reducing child mortality and goal 8: developing global partnerships for development.

 

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Millenium Development Goals - Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Target: Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death and illness among women of reproductive age in developing countries. In 2000, the 189 member states of the United Nations agreed to a broad set of goals setting international development priorities until 2015.

The MDGs build on a number of international conferences that took place in the 1990s, including the International Conference on population Development that took place in Cairo, Egypt in 2004. However the goal for universal access to reproductive health by 2015 adopted in Cairo was not included as an explicit goal or target among the MDGs.{/styleboxjp}

Q: What is the cost of maternal mortality, and how does this affect a country’s ability to achieve the millennium development goals?
FHB: It is important to talk about the scope and magnitude of these needless deaths affecting over three million women in developing countries. Nearly one million children become orphans. Of the 521,000 women who die annually from pregnancy and birth-related complications, over half are to be found in Africa. This translates into one woman every minute. For each woman who dies, 20 survive with serious injuries and disabilities.
Also when a mother dies, the quality of life of her surviving children is deeply affected. Remember too that half of Africa’s children die before the age of five and it is possible to link some of these losses to maternal deaths.


Since women contribute to the well-being of their families as care givers, custodians of health and culture, agricultural sustenance and as active participants in income generation, the death of a woman seriously undermines her family’s capacity to generate wealth and livelihoods. Also women represent 50 percent of any given population and when they die needlessly this translates into lost investments to their families, communities, countries and the world. This state of affairs already undermines the first goal of the MDGs – the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

Q: How can these losses be stemmed in Africa?
FHB: It is shameful in the modern world that such large numbers African women die from preventable causes and yet it is possible to reduce these losses by three quarters with safe and effective interventions. For instance Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Egypt, Chile, Honduras, Thailand and Nicaragua have successfully reduced their maternal mortality rates in a span of less than 10 years.

Q: How did they manage this?
FHB: Honduras was able to reduce maternal deaths in a period of between four and six years by:

  • Ensuring that deliveries are attended to by skilled health professionals, supported by equipment and supplies
  • Ensuring women have access to emergency care
  • Referral of complicated cases
  • Birth spacing and family planning choices for women

Q: What can Africa achieve by reducing maternal mortality rates?
FHB: Africa can decrease infant mortality rates by up to 45 percent. Also each dollar invested in family planning saves many more dollars for national economies. For instance, Thailand reported a US $ 16 saving on each dollar invested in family planning programmes. Egypt made US $ 31 savings on their budget for each dollar investment. These are real investments and it is time to think in terms of investments made rather than the cost of supporting programmes that benefit African women. Investing in women creates gender equality, human rights and social justice for over 200 million women around the world.

Q: It is estimated that 1.3 billion young people around the world are about to begin their reproductive lives. What resources can be prioritised for them?
FHB: This group of people is particularly vulnerable and they need our protection because they are young and they lack experience and information. They also live under the threat of HIV/AIDS as a result of the circumstances of choices and decisions they will make. It is critical that we begin to address this issue.
In Africa, more than half of the new infections occur among young people and girls between the ages 15 to 24 years have infection rates that are three times higher than boys in the same age group. The following interventions are important:

  • Equipping them early with appropriate information on sexuality and life skills
  • Creating awareness of the consequences of early sexual activity which includes HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality and morbidity, missed opportunities for education and lost opportunities in life
  • Providing services for young people

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