How to Avoid a Global Tragedy
THE UNITED NATIONS CALLS IT A “GLOBAL TRAGEDY”—AND RIGHTLY SO. WORLDWIDE, EVERY MINUTE A WOMAN DIES AS A CONSEQUENCE OF PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH.
Most of these deaths occur in developing countries. While only 1 woman in 10,000 dies from pregnancy-related causes in Europe and 1 in 12,500 in the United States, the odds rise to 1 in 73 in Latin America, 1 in 54 in Asia, and an appalling 1 in 21 in Africa!
Since many of these 600,000 pregnancy-related deaths each year could have been prevented with the help of skilled birth attendants, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are now stressing the training of women (and men) as professional midwives.
In countries where doctors are scarce, trained midwives can mean the difference between life and death. UNICEF’s Dr. France Donnay and WHO adviser Anne Thompson told UN Radio recently that giving trained midwives more authority is already bringing results. They said that in several African countries, for instance, maternal mortality dropped dramatically when midwives received permission to remove placentas that were not expelled after birth. Similar progress is being made in Indonesia, where a project aims to train two midwives for every village. So far, 55,000 trained midwives have been sent out.
“In developed countries, too, midwifery is alive,” noted the UN Radio program Perspective. Such countries as France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom never abandoned the tradition of midwifery, and in the United States, it is enjoying a revival. These countries value midwives, said Anne Thompson, a trained midwife herself, because they offer personalized and continual care. “A labour after all goes on for anything up to 24 hours and physicians don’t have time to sit around for 24 hours.” Yet, she added that one of the factors contributing to safer childbirth is “the presence of somebody who is sympathetic, knowledgeable, understanding and can reassure the woman.”
Perspective further noted that “each year 60 million deliveries take place in which the woman is cared for only by a family member, an untrained traditional birth attendant—or by no one at all.” The UN is striving to change this. For starters, WHO focused the 1998 World Health Day on the theme “Safe Motherhood.” “We know it will not be achieved in the next 2 or 3 years,” said Dr. Donnay. Their goal, though, is to have “a professional attendant for each woman at delivery.”
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