On Monday September 19th, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will convene in New York City for its 66th session to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and commitments to women and children.
One of the most pertinent global issues MDG 5—improving maternal health. According to World Health Organisation, up to 358,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth. Most of them die because they had no access to skilled routine and emergency care.
Sarah Brown, the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) global patron urged leaders to play their role to reduce global poverty thus improving maternal and newborn health.
“This is a wakeup call to world leaders to become heroes and heroines by taking the swift action needed to drive towards the millennium development goal promises. Maternal and newborn health is at the heart of their promise to reduce global poverty,” said Sarah Brown, WRA Global Patron, in a press statement.
“What we need now is more health workers to save the lives of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth, and their precious newborn babies too,” Brown added.
The MDG 5 goal is to ‘reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio and achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.’
Notable progress has been achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, however, unlike in the developed world where a woman’s life time risk of dying during or following pregnancy is 1 in 4,300, the risk of maternal death is very high at 1 in 31.
In Rwanda’s case, statistics show that maternal mortality has declined by more than one-third in nearly two decades.
Rwanda was nominated for an MDG award in recognition of its progress against this goal. The nomination recognized the Ministry of Health-led expansion of access to high-impact HNP (health, nutrition and population) interventions, and in particular, the complementary efforts undertaken at community level.
Health workers in Rwanda have helped a great deal in enhancing safe motherhood. Through the WRA-Rwanda, a coalition of several health institutions, media, NGOs, and individuals such as health doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers among others, maternal health is improving in the country.
Through the intervention of Community Health Workers (CHW), women have been encouraged to deliver from health facilities under the care of professionals.
Recently, a preliminary report of the Rwanda Demographic and Health survey (RDHS), 2010 revealed that the percentage of babies delivered by a health professional has substantially increased from 52 per cent to 69 per cent. This could possibly be attributed to the 60,000 CHWs across the country—four are stationed in every village.
Josephine Murekezi, the Chairperson of the Rwanda Midwives Association, said a lot has been done to encourage women to deliver from health facilities.
“There are community health workers all over the country. These make follow up calls on pregnant women, encourage them to go for antenatal care and persuade them to deliver from hospitals,” Murekezi said.
However, for mothers to stay safe at child birth, it is imperative that whole communities and not only health workers, are involved.
Christine Uwineza, a working mother of two, says she went for antenatal care four times during her previous pregnancy which ensured that her babies were in good health.
She urges women to always seek the advice of health workers, that is, doctors and midwives throughout pregnancy for safe delivery.
Uwineza says that women should have a healthy diet and, “should ensure that the midwife working on them is a professional, eat a healthy diet and avoid alcoholic drinks and smoking in order to deliver healthy children.”
“Once a woman finds out she is pregnant, she should always take the initiative to regularly consult a trained health worker throughout her nine months of pregnancy,” she urged.
Caring for mothers is caring for a whole nation. Women are behind the development of families, communities, nations and the world at large.
Countries with good maternal health policies are stronger and wealthier than those without; this calls for every Government and individual to take part in ensuring safe motherhood.
While health workers play their role in ensuring safe motherhood for all, the biggest challenge remains for mothers to ensure that their right to safe child birth is observed.
It is of utter urgency that policies in developing countries prioritize maternal health as a prerogative to national development.