‘Over 70,000 Women Die In India Every Year During Childbirth’
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23 August 2010
Sarah Zeid, a member of the royal family of Jordan, who was in India to launch a multimedia campaign of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, visited villages in Orissa and talked to mothers about health facilities available to them. She spoke to Rema Nagarajan:
What was the reason for visiting India from over 150 countries, which are part of the White Ribbon Alliance?
India accounts for a quarter of all maternal deaths globally. Over 70,000 women die in India every year due to complications related to childbirth. That means over two million maternal orphans, little children who have to grow up without their mother to look after them. It is so tragic. Most of these deaths are preventable. And the solution is very clear and simple. It is the implementation that requires hard work. Something has to be done here urgently and I was very keen to see the work of the Alliance in India.
What impelled you to join the White Ribbon Alliance?
I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Amniotic Fluid Embolism when i was pregnant with our third child in Washington. Most women do not survive this condition. I was lucky to be in excellent hospital with the best medical care. During the delivery i saw my husband holding our second child and watching helplessly, faced with the possibility that his wife could die and he might be left to bring up the children alone. I decided then that i had to reach out and help to ensure that women did not have to die from childbirth. I walked into the office of the Alliance and offered to help in any way possible to make a difference.
What is your role in the White Ribbon Alliance?
I can talk. I have my own story to tell about how i survived only because i had good medical intervention. I help raise funds and use whatever influence i have to gain access to individuals who can make a difference. I travel a lot and meet people to raise awareness on the issue of maternal health. I would be terribly frustrated if i did not do something about such a serious issue. It is a human disgrace that anyone should die giving life. Every woman should have the right to survive.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in India in tackling maternal mortality?
In India, any problem gets magnified because of the sheer size of the population. For instance, 15 per cent of all pregnancies are said to result in an obstetric emergency that cannot be predicted and can happen in any pregnancy. When you look at 15 per cent of the population of mothers in India, that is a huge number we are talking about, spread across the whole country. And the healthcare system is just not geared to handle such huge number of emergencies and complications. The problems in accessing good healthcare are the same in India as they are across the world.
There are three main factors – decision-making at the family level about accessing healthcare for childbirth, timely transport to a health facility, the kind of care and response available at the facility. Every minute counts in an emergency and delays at the various levels can prove fatal. The government has many programmes and entitlements for mothers. But on talking to women in India i found that most of them did not know their entitlements and that’s where the Alliance is working hard – to spread awareness among women about their entitlements.