By Akhila Nagar:
In a world where poverty, climate change, and terrorism are the issues that occupy the centre stage in global politics, policy making and various other debates, the issue of maternal and child healthcare has often been side-lined. The very act of childbirth and ensuring a healthy development of the child along with the mother is the foundation of any future step to be taken in any field. As Sarah Brown, wife of the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, says – “if we can fix things for mothers – and we can – we can fix so many other things that are wrong in the world”.
But while India ranks 114 in the Global Gender Gap Index, 2014, and in that, 141st for health and survival of women, the Indian Government announces a cut in spending on women’s health by as much as 20%. Budgets for child health have also seen severe trimming over the years. The fact that saving mothers and children’s lives is so basic to human progress makes the reality of it even more pressing.
While maternal and neonatal deaths primarily occur in developing countries, it would require concrete effort, at least in terms of financial commitments by developed countries, to address this issue. Preparing communities for healthy birthing, ensuring adequate nutrition and medical check-ups for a pregnant woman, counselling families against early marriage and spacing of deliveries, and readying facilities to handle complications are just some of the ways in which we can save mothers and children.
Knowing the fact that between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by 50%, gives us a glimpse into the dark side of the joy and celebration that many societies associate with pregnancy and childbirth. The figures associated with other aspects of maternal and child care are given below:
The picture, however, is not all grey. The White Ribbon Alliance for over a decade now, has been working with Governments and communities to increase the spotlight on the issue of maternal death. A membership alliance globally, it has 1800 organisations as partners in India. In 2003, the White Ribbon Alliance India was able to successfully lobby with the National Government to declare April 11 as the National Safe Motherhood Day to support and advance the cause of maternal and child healthcare. Every year, thousands of organisations across India converge to deliberate, engage, cross-learn and adjoin synergies for renewed focus and work on the issue of maternal and neonatal deaths. In 2015, the global alliance has adopted the call for action on Citizen’s Hearing to promote Accountability around Maternal Health and is working with many other partners to organise national and district level citizens’ hearings in at least 30 countries in the first half of 2015. As the national coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance India says, “Through the Nothing About Us, Without Us Campaign, we want to send out the message that every woman has a right to live and survive pregnancy and childbirth, and that citizens’ engagement can go a long way to help the goals”.
While India is tipped to reach the UNs Millennium Development Goals call for reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters in 2015, the new framework of Sustainable Development Goals provides opportunities for greater citizen’s participation to develop these goals. Prioritizing maternal and neonatal health is the need of the hour.
In India several organisations are doing their bits to help women access emergency obstetric care, laying the foundations for good prenatal care, helping prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and getting girls to school. Progress may be slow, but at least it is happening. So the next time someone asks you to name some of the biggest issues we are facing today, remember, in India, 1 woman dies every 10 minutes from pregnancy related causes, and that this is a systemic issue that needs to be talked about and worked upon.