Why are pregnant women still dying?

In Africa, at least 125,000 women and 870,000 newborns die in the first week after birth every year. We know that skilled care, clean water, and sanitation before, during, and after childbirth saves lives. We have all this information available, so why are so many mothers and children still dying?

The bulk of maternal mortality cases consists of impoverished women, isolated in rural areas of developing countries. A pregnant woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying from maternal causes, compared to a 1 in 4,000 risk in a developed country (UNICEF). Evidently, the quality of maternal care is very different in poor and rich countries. For one, disadvantaged women lack the security of a functioning basic infrastructure – clean water still is one of the biggest concerns for pregnant women. Additionally, distant healthcare facilities paired with lack of transportation drives up the number of unattended births at home. In the developing world, pregnant women need to worry about every little detail.

Pregnant women living in poverty often forgo prenatal and postnatal care, as well as skilled medical assistance during delivery. Without medical care, these pregnant women are at greater risk of overlooking pregnancy and birth complications, putting themselves and their unborn babies at risk. Prenatal care provides expecting mothers with the opportunity to educate themselves on maternal health, breastfeeding, sexual planning, and the importance of postnatal care. Postnatal care is just as lifesaving, if not more, as prenatal care because the time period right after the baby is born is crucial for mother and infant. Half of all postnatal maternal deaths occur during the first week, usually in the first 24 hours of childbirth. These deaths could be avoided if more mothers were encouraged to stay in the hospital after delivery, under proper medical supervision and care.

The impact of providing prenatal and postnatal care cannot be ignored – if 90% of African mothers and infants had access to such care, there would be 310,000 fewer newborn deaths and many maternal lives would be saved. Emphasizing maternal care empowers and educates pregnant mothers, in addition to saving their lives. Currently, pregnant women of the developing world are neglected by their healthcare systems. If we know that the most important intervention in maternal health is adequate medical attention, then why are we still denying these women the care they need?

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