India: 78000 maternal deaths annually due to abysmal rural health care, child marriage & poor diet Print E-mail
 Saturday January 17, 2009

Disturbing report

High maternal mortality rate needs to be tackled.

India’s poor infrastructural support for women at the time of delivery has come in for sharp criticism by the UNICEF in its State of the World’s Children Report 2009. According to the report, around 78,000 women die each year in the country from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. This means that on an average one woman dies every seven minutes of complications related to childbirth. Two-thirds of all maternal deaths in the country come from nine states: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam. While Karnataka does not figure among the nine states with highest maternal deaths, its performance with regard to providing good pre-and-post-natal care to women has been far from satisfactory.

Among the southern states, it is the worst off with regard to the maternal mortality rate. A third of pregnant women in Karnataka do not deliver in hospitals or public health centres. They do not have the support of trained health care staff to deliver their children. The situation is serious in some districts. In Koppal a mere 25 per cent of pregnant women have access to institutional support at the time of delivery.

The high maternal mortality rate in the country is the result of multiple problems and all these need to be tackled to reduce maternal deaths. For one, there is a shortage of health care centres in most parts of rural India.

Accessing institutional support becomes a problem as pregnant women find the trek to the nearest hospital ­ often involving a walk of several kilometres ­ extremely difficult. In some places, hospitals are accessible but these are poorly equipped or understaffed. Then there is the problem of child marriage in the country. Although it is banned it continues to be practised. Girls become mothers long before their bodies are mature enough to handle pregnancy. They are five times more likely than an adult woman to die in the process of childbirth. It is not without significance that districts in Karnataka that report high maternal mortality rate are also the ones where child marriage is in practice.

To reduce maternal deaths, we need to educate people about the importance of female nutrition. Indian women often give up their meals to feed their husbands and sons. A pregnant woman cannot afford to do this as her body becomes too weak to face the rigour of childbirth. There is a crying need for improving public awareness on the importance of maternal nutrition and health.