Difficulties for Women at Qatar Hospital in Pakistan
The Dangers of Home Births in Pakistan
The mother of all scandals ó thatís how leading obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Shershah Syed describes Pakistanís maternal death rate. Itís a scandal, he says, that every 30 minutes Pakistan loses a young mother. Itís a scandal that few women in the country have access to emergency obstetric care. More than anything else, he says, itís a scandal that a country which can afford an atomic bomb isnít able to provide basic health care for its citizens.
His views, which he expresses loudly and often, donít always make him popular. Yet Dr. Shershah, head of obstetrics and gynecology at the Qatar Hospital in Karachi, has dedicated his career to improving maternal health in his native Pakistan ó where every year an estimated 15,000 women die and some 400,000 more suffer lifelong debilitating illnesses as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications.
In Pakistan, as in other countries where maternal mortality is an issue, women die because of poverty, limited access to emergency obstetric care and inadequate public health facilities. As women have a lower status in society, they die because their lives are not a priority for their families or the government.
The three leading causes of maternal death are excessive bleeding, obstructed labor and infection. Most of the time access to emergency obstetric care could save the life of a woman and her baby. But in Pakistan only about 3 in 10 women have skilled birth attendants to conduct their deliveries and even fewer have access to 24Ėhour emergency care in a facility.
Dr. Shershah has campaigned tirelessly to raise maternal health awareness. When he is not conducting doctors workshops or training courses for midwivesó hoping that one day they will be able to replace the traditional dais, women with no formal medical training who currently deliver the vast majority of babies in Pakistan ó he is raising money for his pet project, a village hospital for poor women he built with his savings and contributions from family and friends.
Treating patients without charge, Dr. Shershahís Kohigot Hospital was opened primarily to treat women with obstetric fistulas ó a result of obstructed labor that renders the woman incontinent. The condition affects tens of thousands of women in Pakistan, largely poor women who, as a result of malnourishment, have underdeveloped skeletons. Left untreated, these women become social outcasts, rejected by their husbands and families. But fistulas can usually be repaired by relatively simple surgery. Dr. Shershah is one of the few gynecologists in the country who performs such operations.
Maternal death is not a medical problem, itís a political one, Dr. Shershah says. Only when the political will is there will the women of Pakistan get the health care system they deserve.