The African Union conference in Kampala which started on July 19 and will end July 27, has been discussing strategies to reduce maternal mortality. As a mother who has experienced the consequences of poor maternal health systems in Uganda, I thought it was time to tackle this crucial yet often neglected area of maternal health.
It is now two decades since the launch of the Global Safe Motherhood Initiative in 1987, but women are still dying in childbirth, and their deaths seem to be invisible. Fortunately, we can prevent these deaths if we invest in a few key safe and affordable health services. Here are some of the best practices that I’ve gathered from the best-researched literature:
1. Women must have access to skilled care before, during and after they give birth.
2. Health providers must be trained in emergency obstetric care. Health centers and clinics must have surgical supplies to handle complications.
3. Maternal health-care systems must be strengthened, and communities mobilized and educated to improve deliveries in birth clinics.
4. Skilled community-based birth attendants should be trained and posted to increase maternal coverage in remote areas.
5. Give incentives to health providers to motivate them to do their job effectively.
6. Contract with private organizations to deliver maternal health-care services. This will ensure rural areas are covered and will reduce supply shortages–but attention must also be paid to the quality of service provided.
7. Educate and empower women and girls about maternal health issues. They compose two-thirds of the world’s illiterates and 70 percent of the world’s poorest people. Educated and empowered women can lead healthy lives and can lift their families out of disease. They usually marry later, and have fewer and healthier children who are more likely to attend school.
8. Empower women’s groups so they can deliver political success and tangible health outcomes.
9. Launch professional, well-informed advocacy groups to call for action on maternal health.
10. Implement streamlined and evidence-based maternal health interventions.
11. Implement evidence-based strategies to increase utilization of maternal health-care services.
12. Remove user fees for maternal health care services and provide transportation services to maternal health centers–which alone can double the utilization of the centers’ services.
13. Evaluate and monitor maternal and child health policies.
14. Make sure that the appropriate government ministries are accountable to the public about the performance of investments in maternal health.
15. Create strategic alliances between groups representing maternal health, as that will open doors to political and financial support. Currently, maternal health communities have many leaders but no leadership.
16. Make child and maternal survival a core national and global health concern.
Implementing the above strategies is not only the right thing to do, it is the economically smart thing to do. Women and girls are a driving force in our economies, and when women are healthy, they play a crucial role in the development of countries.
Young women especially, have lifetimes of potential economic returns to give to their communities. Globally, maternal and infant deaths account for $15 billion in lost productivity, not to mention immeasurable grief for families and communities. That is $15 billion that could instead go towards strengthening economies, building roads and schools and fostering a brighter future for our children.
This post was reprinted with permission from New Vision (Uganda).”The Right of Every Woman” by Belle Taylor-McGhee explores maternal mortality in Uganda in the forthcoming issue of Ms. magazine. Join the Ms. Community today and have it delivered to your doorstep!