Saturday, May 22, 2010

Maternal Mortality Rates.....

Kudos to the Iceman for sending me down this path. I was just reading one of his blog posts on Maternal Deaths and decided to delve a little further in another direction. I have been interested in this topic for many years, since before I became a mother myself in fact (almost 13 years ago). I also read a Letter To The Editor in my local paper last night that popped the idea into my head for a post,, so here we go!

It has been in the news repeatedly in recent months that Canada's federal govt does not want to continue funding abortions around the globe. This decision has been taking hits from numerous groups - medical, women's interest groups, the general public, opposition parties, etc. The latest stats announce that approximately 70,000 women around the world die each year because of botched abortions. This stat is often used as an argument in favour of continuing to fund international groups that may use the money to create or improve clinics, to help women survive. To Save Lives.

Fair enough. However, when you look into other causes of maternal death around the world, you find a much more staggering figure. According to Science, over 500,000 women died in 2000 during or shortly after childbirth and that this figure could be reduced greatly with a few things that industrialized nations have easy access to, but developing or underdeveloped countries do not. The majority of deaths, according to the article, which takes its information from the United Nations, are caused by severe bleeding in the days after birth. A large number of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are also related to infectious diseases that treatments are available for. Perhaps this is the kind of statistic that the Canadian govt has been looking at and sees that a greater number of Lives Can Be Saved by channeling funding to contraception, medicine, antivirals, and medical staff training. Malaria and HIV are listed in studies (see last link) as being a top contributor to maternal death. Since both Malaria and HIV/AIDS take the lives of millions worldwide each year, doesn't it stand to reason that if countries are going to band together to provide funding for international medical care, it would be best if the larger death rates are tackled first?

It could be argued that if more termination funding was provided, there would be fewer maternal deaths overall because more women would be able to choose abortion and thus not risk dying during childbirth later on, but is that where we really want to go? Abortion is a risky procedure no matter where it is performed, just like any other medical procedure. Do we want to provide more and more, or if we are going to fund international medicine, should we not try to tackle the big picture first? I do not wish to infer that the lives of 70,000 women a year is insignificant, but when compared to 500,000 or 5 million (combined Malaria and HIV yearly death rates), it really is a small part of a bigger problem.

It is difficult to follow the money when it is handed over to a group that provides all sorts of medical care but lately they have been calling out the 70,000 statistic quite loudly, at least in the media, so it would lead us to believe they are focusing tightly on providing safer abortions. If our tax dollars are to be used to help others across the globe, would you rather have a hand in saving between half a million and 5 million people a year, or a hand in helping save 70,000 a year. If the choice came down to that, what would you prefer, as a taxpayer funding this?  Would you rather your money went to providing medication that could treat and save millions of people suffering from Malaria and AIDS, or providing better medical staff training in birth centers and medication to stave off hemorrages after birthing - having a hand in saving millions of people; or would you rather your money went to creating a clinic where women can have their pregnancies terminated, saving 70,000 or so lives? It's a harsh reality that choices have to be made. If you found that a women's group was using a large chunk of it's funding to open more abortion clinics than it was using to hand out live-saving medication to all, how would you feel about continuing to fund them? It doesn't come down to a pro-choice vs pro-life decision for me (for the record, I am mainly pro-choice), it comes down to a For The Greater Good, if you will. If we can get a handle on the many millions of people that die from Cancer, Heart Disease, Infectious Disease, etc each year, then maybe we can start going for more precise targets such as abortion deaths.


  1. Well done. I think the statistic we need to calculate is "lives saved per dollar of aid". I would like to save the greatest number of lives for the money we spend on saving lives.

  2. I am associated with at an orphanage in the south west corner of Uganda, Maternal death rates there are very high, their are several reasons for this. Of course as you mentioned Aids and malaria (sleeping sickness is making a come back of which their is a vaccine for too.) are factors for sure. One of the leading factors is no maternal health care during the pregnancy, no medical help before, during and after the birth. Our group takes in Babies from fathers and family members who can not take care of the babies as they do not have access to formula or bottles. Unless they have someone else in the family who is nursing or finished nursing a child but still lactating and they are will to play wet nurse, they have no way to feed the babies except by spoon feeding goats or cows milk. Most of those babies end up starving to death.

    There is a tradition of sorts where the family members will bring the babies to a certain Field in the area to drop off the babies they can not feed, hypothermia or being eaten by the hyenas or other such animals is the fate awaiting them. The orphanage was built almost beside this Field, staff and volunteers comb that Field a couple times a day in order to look for such unfortunate babies.

    What this area really needs is access to medical care, I can not imagine that other areas are so very different. It is a dream of mine to get some one of means to build a mid wife school and get staff in there that can teach mid-wifery to the willing African women.. Not only would it help the mothers mortality rate, the babies mortality rates but also provide dignified important employment for women all over Africa.

    I would also like to point out that Rwanda has passed a law that if you have a child out of wed lock you could be sent to jail for life. This may be a reason that young girls are desperate enough to have an abortion no matter how bad it may be. These women do not necessarily neeeeeed an abortion, they neeed public pressure put on the government to change that stupid law for goodness sakes. The orphanage has seen an increase in babies from Rwandan women who walk over the volcano range, come to Uganda to hide out, they give birth and abandon their babes where ever too. The orphanage is trying to get the word out that they will take these babies in too. It is slow heart breaking work at times as so much death is preventable with such simple things we, the western world take for granted.

    Goodness sorry for going on but I have one last point to make. The people in these countries can be extremely religious. Uganda is about half and half catholic and protestant, but other countries have Muslim populations who would also not partake of an abortion. Those calling for abortions on behalf of these women, in my opinion have no clue of the cultural context they are dealing with, what the real needs are. They depress me with their rhetoric and inability to understand the lives of these women. They just think they are the same as them but are just poorer, not so at all.

    whew I'm done now.

  3. Thank you for sharing that! I was going to go into something similar but figured my post was long enough already ;)

    Years ago I watched an Oprah program (forgive me, it was an excellent topic!) that dealt with teaching medical staff in rural African regions how to perform c-sections as well as simple procedures for repairing a torn bladder. I cried through half the program at least!

    The first topic was in regards to the mortality rates for young women - so many in certain areas are very young when they give birth and their bodies/hips are just too small and problems can arise. The leading cause of death in many rural areas for women under 30 was childbirth. Many different groups decided to take action and funded the training of local nurses to perform ceasarians - and wouldn't you know it? The mortality rates plummeted drastically. Young women would walk for countless miles to reach these centers because their chance of survival was so much higher. If I remember right, many left their babies there to be put in an orphanage, but at least they both came away from it alive.

    Another issue was how many of these young women/teens would end up with their bladders perforated during hard labour. When they returned to their villages, they were ostracized because they were literally constantly leaking urine. The program showed them living in little stick huts, without their children, due to the odor and unsanitary situation they were in. It was heart breaking. The medical teams taught local staff how to repair this, as well as techniques to try to help stop it from happening in the first place. The girls were SO happy it was amazing and heart breaking at the same time. They were helped, they could move back with their families, and their self esteem and lives were restored.

    That is the kind of thing I wouldn't mind my money going to at all. But yes, there is a LOT to be said about getting some of these govts out of the damned way. They eat up the funding before it gets anywhere, there are many groups within the countries that block aid and medical supplies from reaching villages and towns, and that needs to be stopped if we are ever going to hope to drastically improve lives in these regions.

    I hope that your group can continue to do it's good work!



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