Few pregnancy deaths but maternal health challenges remain: report

By , on October 6, 2015


(ShutterStock image)
(ShutterStock image)

VANCOUVER – Seven-thousand gynecologists and obstetricians from across the globe have gathered in Vancouver to strategize on measures to improve maternal and reproductive health worldwide.

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics is releasing a report on Tuesday at its triennial congress saying “more work needs to be done.”

Challenges range from high mortality rates due to cervical cancer in low-resource countries and unsafe abortions, to the millions of mothers in South Saharan Africa living with HIV infections, according to the report.

“Our world has an unfinished agenda in women’s reproductive health,” said Dr. Richard Adanu, co-guest editor of the report, in a news release.

“We need to collectively strategize to find new approaches or to persist with proven and successful interventions.”

But progress has been made since the congress last met, said its president Sabaratnam Arulkumaran at a news conference Monday.

He said there’s been a “considerable reduction” in maternal mortality worldwide, from 540 deaths per 100,000 to 280, or a drop of 45 per cent.

“The idea is, actually, this can be further reduced,” Arulkumaran said. “That’s why we are here today, trying to (make) action plans.”

He said doctors can save more women’s lives by improving emergency obstetrics, safe abortion care and contraceptive coverage.

The federation is targeting about 20 countries that contribute to 77 per cent of maternal mortality and 74 per cent of child mortality globally, he added.

They say focusing on nine key causes of mortality could save up to half of those lives by 2035.

It’s working with groups such as the International Confederation of Midwives and the International Pediatric Association.

Canada has been a leader in improving maternal health on several fronts, said one of the federation’s past presidents, Dorothy Shaw.

“We’re very interested in getting the Canadian public aware of what Canada’s contribution is,” said Shaw, who is also vice-president of medical affairs at the University of British Columbia.

Canada does not meet the United Nations’ Millennium Project goal for rich countries to commit 0.7 per cent of gross national product toward development aid, but she said the government has stepped up on maternal and child health.

Last May, the Conservative government announced another $3.5-billion toward maternal and child health in low-income countries.

“Is it ever enough?” she said with a chuckle. “It was more than civil society asked for.”

Dr. Jennifer Blake, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, told delegates on Monday about a successful project that has benefited from government funding.

The project conducted maternal mortality audits at 22 health centres in Mali, which Blake said is one of the most complicated and unstable countries due to war.

“A lot’s going on,” she said. “Canada doesn’t get credit for the work it has done.”