The death of a woman in childbirth is a tragedy, an unnecessary and wasteful event that carries with it a huge burden of grief and pain. Pregnancy is not a disease and pregnancy related morbidity and mortality are preventable. Half a million women die each year due to pregnancy related complications and 95% of them come from developing world. The lifetime risk of a woman dying of pregnancy related causes in developing countries is 1:40 as compared to 1:3600 in developed world.
The status of maternal health is poor in Pakistan. An estimated 30,000 women die each year due to pregnancy related causes. It is estimated that about 500 maternal deaths occur per 100,000 live births each year in Pakistan. Recent estimates (WHO & UNICEF) place the figures around 270/100,000 live births but in reality it may be higher because of under registration of deaths in country and absence of cause of death information.
One of the major reasons for this high maternal mortality rate is malnutrition, which affects 34 percent of pregnant women. Around 48 percent of lactating mothers have a calorie intake of 70 percent less than the recommended level. This is bad for the health of the mother as well the baby. In addition, 45 percent of Pakistani women suffer from iron deficiencies that result in stillbirths, birth defects, and mental retardation and infant deaths.
Hemorrhage, hypertension, unsafe abortion, infections and obstructed labour are other factors contributing to the higher mortality rate among women in rural areas. All of these causes are mostly preventable through proper understanding, diagnosis and management of labour complications. To reduce complications during pregnancy and labour it is essential to strengthen primary health care infrastructure. Provision of antenatal health care in the community by trained health personnel form the backbone of any such efforts.
Dawn reports that on 16th March, this year, 85 governments in a joint statement, delivered to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), reaffirmed commitment to addressing maternal mortality as a human rights issue and that the magnitude of the problem calls for the renewal of political will to address it. However, Pakistan was not one of the signatories to this document, because the government refuses to recognize the death of Pakistani mothers, as a result of medical negligence and lack of awareness, a basic human rights issue.
This alarming attitude of the government has moved the civil society and various national and international NGOs to urge the Pakistan Government to sign the upcoming resolution on maternal mortality in the coming UN Human Rights Council session scheduled for June 2-18, 2009 in Geneva. More initiatives to prevent maternal mortality would be an obligation of countries which are signatories of this resolution. The condition in Pakistan requires some serious efforts.