The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 380,000 women die during pregnancy and child birth every year. That’s about the same number of women who give birth in Canada every year! In Canada, the risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth is approximately 1:10,000, which means about 38 women will die in Canada every year. In Uganda, nearly 6,000 women die in childbirth every year.
Any death of a pregnant woman is a tragedy. In Canada, because of our access to medical care, we almost take for granted the fact that women will survive childbirth and babies will be born healthy. We have medications to prevent or stop bleeding after delivery and antibiotics to prevent or treat postpartum infections. We have the ability to induce labour in women who develop a complication such as preeclampsia, and we can assist with a delivery that is not progressing normally with forceps, a vacuum, or when necessary, by caesarean section.
A recent Globe & Mail article When having a baby is a life-or-death issue reported that the risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 300 times greater in Africa than in Canada. The stories about what women have endured - specifically in Uganda - are gut wrenching. No access to doctors who could (or would) perform an assisted delivery with forceps, vacuum or caesarean section, left one woman in pain for hours. Her baby died and she required a hysterectomy. Another woman (an elected politician) bled to death when she too was left unattended for hours.
Two of our Obstetrics & Gynecology residents had the opportunity recently to work in a small clinic/hospital in Zimbabwe. During their time there, they witnessed one maternal death and over a dozen newborn baby deaths - all of which should have and could have been prevented with adequate medical intervention: something that is easily and readily available in all developed countries.
The Canadian Government led a $5 billion pledge for maternal and child health at last year’s G8 meeting in Muskoka. Maternal health seemed to be the issue of choice for the G8, the African Union and the United Nations. And what has this focus on maternal health achieved? We still have 380,000 women dying every year in childbirth. Women, like the ones in the Globe and Mail article, are left to labour - and die - on their own without help or assistance. And our Minister of International Co-Operation, the Right Honourable Bev Oda, recently boasted that great progress has been made? Where is the dedication to maternal health this year, now that the G8 summit is over? Why have the world leaders not been called to account for the lack of progress and lack of any apparent realistic plan?
What if all the pregnant women in Canada died in a year? There would be a huge outcry, and rightly so. Head’s would roll. People would be held accountable. Where is the outcry, and where is the accountability, for the pregnant women in Africa?
We can’t ignore the plight of pregnant women in Africa - contact your local MP and make sure Maternal Health doesn't slip off the world's agenda.