'Maternal mortality is preventable in 70 per cent of cases'

The Inquirer

'Maternal mortality is preventable in 70 per cent of cases'

 Sarah ZeidShe spoke to Shruba Mukherjee of Deccan Herald recently during her first visit to India as a champion of ‘The White Ribbon Alliance’ (WRA), a global alliance of organisations and individuals committed to saving the lives of mothers and newborn babies. Excerpts:

What motivated you to associate yourselves with the cause of ‘safe motherhood?’

It happened at the time of the birth of my third child. During the delivery, I suffered a serious life threatening complication and there was very little chance that I would survive. It was then I realised that no mother should suffer like me. Since then I became a part of the WRA which I think is an extraordinary movement to ensure that no woman should die giving life to a child. Mothers are the heart of every family, and crucial to the survival, well being and happiness of husbands and children everywhere. And let me tell you all over the world mothers die while giving birth and this is not something unique to a developing country like India.

This is your first visit to India as a champion of mothers’ right to life. Are you aware of the Indian situation?

A woman dies every eight minutes in India due to pregnancy-related complications. That’s about 70,000 women in a year. And the point I want to make is that 70 per cent of these deaths are preventable. A little medical care and timely intervention can save these women, who are in the prime of their lives, from the jaws of death. I have come here to release a multimedia campaign titled ‘Stories of Mothers Saved’ showcasing stories of women who did not die needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth. They provide proof that change can happen through small but significant efforts.

You have been to Orissa to assess the situation there. What do you think are the challenges in dealing with maternal mortality?

The sheer size of India and the huge population. The population of the state of Orissa is six times than that of Jordan. The biggest challenge for you is to provide quality healthcare facilities for such a huge number. The issue is not just that of institutional delivery, but the entire range of pre-natal and ante-natal care, proper nutrition, post-partum medical attention and getting her to hospital at the right time. To bridge the demand-supply gap in giving access to quality healthcare system is the most important challenge in India. 

Do you see any hope for India to overcome this challenge?

The White Ribbon Alliance is really doing good work in Orissa and after visiting the project sites I feel that yes, with the right kind of interventions it is possible to curb maternal mortality in India. I attended a public hearing in a village in Dhenkanal district where women spoke out against government officials, sought clarifications, asked questions and also appreciated them where they had done good job. The issues ranged from a wide variety of subjects like availability of transport for shifting patients to hospitals, bad road conditions, non-availability of blood in blood banks and lack of proper medicines or facilities in public health centres. Matters came to such a pass that a director of the blood bank, who was present there, gave his mobile number to the village woman complainant so that next time she could call him up directly and report on any irregularity.

What do you think is the missing element in fighting with maternal mortality?

I would say it is involvement of men. If a wife dies during childbirth, her husband is the person who is most affected. So it should be our objective to involve them more and more in the process. It can be done by making husbands write letters to their unborn children with a pledge that they would protect their lives along with their mothers. This may be something symbolic, but this can strengthen the bonds between the father and the unborn child. In Orissa, WRA volunteers urged husbands to tie rakhi or a white ribbon around the wrist of their wives with pledges for their protection and well-being. It is all the more relevant in India, where a husband built Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, who died at child birth. I have spoken to many men on the issue and they told me that they would like to become part of this process, but have never been invited. Let’s do it now, let’s involve men in a more active fashion.

Have you learnt any lesson from India which you want to share with the rest of the world?

India has a lot of things going as it has a team of most dedicated men and women working as volunteers for this cause. It is an inspiring and a humbling experience to see how passionate they are about saving lives. It may take time, but India will surely achieve it.

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