UN steps up efforts to reduce childbirth deaths, a key development goal

Every year more than 500,000 women die from
causes related to pregnancy and child birth. 50 percent of those deaths occur
in Sub-Saharan Africa where maternal mortality is the leading
cause of death for young women. In Ethiopia alone, some 20,000 women
die each year while giving birth, and thousands face life-long disabilities. Five weeks ago, 27-year-old Samuni Kitoh gave birth to a stillborn – her eighth child. She was lucky to survive. “My husband thought that the heavy work
I was doing was the reason for the stillbirth.” Samuni and her husband
are subsistence farmers. They depend on their own crops
to feed their family. Barely surviving off the land, they just can’t afford the additional
medical costs for a hospital delivery. So they rely on the traditional
practice of home birth. But even those who could afford it resist
hospitals because of safety issues. Two years ago, there were massive deaths because of a shortage of a critical drug
that prevents hemorrhaging. “There was no Oxytocin in the country and we lost a lot of mothers
because of the lack of this drug.” Some 25 percent of maternal deaths in
Ethiopia are caused by hemorrhage and Oxytocin is effective in preventing
severe postpartum hemorrhaging. Without it, this woman would have bled to death when her baby was
trapped in her birth canal. Samuni took matters into her own hands. Not willing to risk her life by giving birth again,
she has decided to take contraceptives. UNFPA and its partners gave
25 million dollars to the government to meet its contraceptive needs
in support of maternal health. “The coverage is for two years now. We’ve bought 25 million dollars
of contraceptives, since 2004. Since the program has started.” Ethiopia is determined to raise its
contraceptive prevalence rate to 60 percent. But more needs to be done to
ensure a robust health force and adequate supplies are available to handle
the 2.6 million births that occur each year. So that when a woman gives birth,
it’s a moment to celebrate, not to mourn.

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