Maternal Health Access 'Not Hard To Fix'
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31 August 2010
By Danny Rose, Medical Writer
The world has made the least progress towards the Millennium Development Goal that aid groups argue is "not rocket science" and should be the easiest to fix.
Little progress has been made to meet the global commitment to provide universal access to maternal health services, which the groups say could substantially reduce the number of women who die in childbirth or from problems related to pregnancy.
"One woman dies every minute from maternal birthing issues," said Liz Sime, regional director of Marie Stopes International Australia.
"If the world is really serious about dealing with maternal mortality – because that’s the one Millennium Development Goal (MDG) that is least likely to progress – then they would commit to seriously funding very basic reproductive health family planning services, along with ... basic safe birthing care."
"... It is not rocket science."
Ms Sime spoke as a delegate attending the 63rd Annual United Nations DPI/NGO (Department of Public Information / Non–Governmental Organisation) conference which is underway in Melbourne this week.
It is the largest UN summit yet held in Australia and its focus is on assessing progress made in the last decade towards the MDGs, an ambitious eight–point plan for reducing global poverty and disease by 2015.
The conference is yet to report to the UN though there is an emerging consensus that work to improve maternal health, along with improving sanitation, had lagged behind efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, reduce global hunger and boost access to education.
Ms Sime said in little more than 30 years, governments and the research community had rallied to combat the emergence and spread of HIV and yet many women in impoverished countries still lacked access to basic services that could stop them from dying in childbirth.
About 530,000 women die during childbirth every year while about about 68,000 die as the result of an unsafe abortion.
"Less than one per cent of those deaths take place in developed countries, so 99 per cent of those women are living in developing countries," Ms Sime said.
"We know that 215 million women worldwide would like access to contraception and family planning but can’t get it.
"... And we know for a fact, from the work that we do, when women have a choice they don’t want to have 13 children ... they want to be able to plan and space births.
Mary Mertin–Ryan, chief executive of the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance, said five women were dying in childbirth in Australia’s neighbour, Papua New Guinea, every day.
"It is outrageous ... why is this okay?" Ms Mertin–Ryan said.
"Why is it this MDG, which is universal access to reproductive health services, the least likely to be met?
"We need a huge commitment, from donors, from governments, working with the NGO community to make this happen."
UN donor countries will next meet from September 20, in New York, to hear progress on the MDGs where they will also be asked to recommit to the multi–billion dollar global fund which underpins the work.
Marie Stopes International operates in 47 countries, providing family planning and health education as well as abortion services, where legal.