Celebrating motherhood

Celebrating motherhood

From the time of William Shakespeare to the modern age, a plethora of poets in all languages have sung in praise of motherhood. In India, ancient scriptures keep the mother on a high pedestal. Yet, virtually every minute, somewhere in the world, most often in developing countries, a woman dies while giving birth to a child.

Every year more than half a million pregnant women die in the world and unfortunately, developing countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria account for almost 50 per cent of these maternal deaths. The 2000 UN Millennium Declaration had established improvement of maternal health as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The target was to bring down the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) to 200 per lakh of live births by 2007 and 109 by 2015 in India. The goal sounds most elusive as the MMR in the country stands at 254 per one lakh live births.

At the just concluded three day international conference on ‘Empowering women in developing countries through better healthcare and nutrition’ organised by the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and NAM S&T Centre, Delhi, experts shared concern over this dismal scenario.

Multi-faceted problems

The risk of maternal mortality is nine times higher in a woman getting pregnant in the age group of 15-19, said Dr Shiv D Gupta, director of Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur. About 15 per cent of all pregnant women experience complications that can be detected and appropriately managed given proper clinical care, but in a country like India it goes up exponentially. India faces deeper socio-culture problems aggravated by poverty, illiteracy and status of women, he felt. The high MMR, particularly in states like Assam (480), UP (440) and Rajasthan (388) was a cause of grave concern for both health care professionals and the government.

Tamil Nadu can be seen as a progressive state which has successfully controlled its MMR, though it was quite high in economically disadvantaged groups. Dr Padmnabhan of National Rural Health Mission said the high maternal mortality rates in UP and Bihar were due to high TFR (total fertility rate).

Samuel  Mawunganidze, Unicef representative in Rajasthan, however, felt the omission of nutrition aspect in National Rural Health Mission would have serious repercussions on women’s health and consequently lead to maternity complications. The available statistics already indicate Indian women are 50 times more likely to die of a maternity related cause than any other. If policy makers could be more sensitive and accountable to women’s health and nutritional needs, the targets could be achieved in a better way, he felt.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2009 says the gender gap runs deep in India despite hundreds of programmes launched for empowering women in post-independence era. India ranks 114th among the 134 countries. Dr Devendra Kothari, of Population Action Forum felt “this was a shameful reflection of the condition of the women in a country that is on a growth song.”

One of the reasons for failure of women specific programmes according to him is that women are considered a close-knit ‘homogeneous’ group. He says it is unfair since women population in India can’t be put in a uniform group due to their economic, caste and religious background. Women population is vast but ‘heterogeneous’ and those lying at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ are the worst sufferers as women’s empowerment still remains a distant dream.

As we gear up to celebrate Mother’s Day soon, isn’t it the most opportune  time to step up efforts at all levels — policy, planning, budgetary — to ensure when the stork delivers the baby, all expecting  women live to experience the joys of motherhood.