Cape Town, South Africa – More than two million infants and women die worldwide each year from childbirth complications, outnumbering child deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS, according to a new study released at the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) world congress.
Over 2,000 gynecologists, obstetricians and other health workers from around the world came together this week for the FIGO 19th World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics. At the event, FIGO launched its 2009 world report on women’s health, which showed that the prevalent causes for infant and maternal deaths are financial constraints preventing women from accessing quality care, and a lack of health facilities in rural areas. The report also showed that such deaths can be easily avoided with improvements in basic health care, and training for local health care workers to perform emergency cesarean sections and other lifesaving techniques.
Joy Lawn, Senior Research and Policy Advisor for Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives Campaign, which partnered with the Gates Foundation, Johns Hopkins University and individual researchers for the report, commented that the researchers were shocked by the figures and the lack of attention given to these mothers and their babies. "It is seen as women's business,” she said. “Stillbirths don't count. Sometimes the deaths of women don't even count.”
However, the study highlighted developments in Malawi that show signs of encouragement. Despite having only three pediatricians for 12 million people, 60% of births take place in a clinic or hospital and the majority of cesarean sections are performed by trained health workers. Researchers hope that this trend will continue to spread worldwide.
Gender-based discrimination was also discussed at the conference as a factor leading to maternal deaths. Human rights and health researcher Ebenezer Durojaye took a critical look at the lack of prioritization of maternal health in his home country of Nigeria. “My government is not doing enough to protect women's human rights, including their right to life, good health and dignity," he said, noting that in Nigeria one in 18 women will die of pregnancy-related causes. "If men would be dying en masse, would the government also keep their hands folded like they do? I don't think so!"
FIGO, in partnership with the International Pediatric Association, also launched a global effort to stop cervical cancer by providing up-to-date strategies for controlling the disease and advocating for members to take a right-based approach. “Controlling cancer not only prevents death and disability but also will create improvement in the health and well-being of African families," says Professor Joanna Cain, MD, a key partner in the initiative. "Only by taking a comprehensive approach that provides equitable access to vaccination, appropriate screening and effective treatment tailored to the needs in Africa, will there be progress in controlling cervical cancer in the region."
- For additional information on the conference, please click here.