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Ministry of Health, UNICEF, UNFPA and PAHO Unite to Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity among Women

© UNICEF Jamaica, Noorani, S. 2005
A mother comforts her baby as they wait at a clinic in Kingston

Several international, regional and national experts delivered high level presentations focusing on global perspectives, surveillance, quality of care, health promotion and policy environment at a National Conference on Safe Motherhood held on November 15 & 16 2005 at the Hilton Kingston Hotel in New Kingston.

The Conference was presented by the Ministry of Health, Jamaica in collaboration with UNFPA- United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The goal of the Conference was to advance the process of achieving a reduction in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Jamaica in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals.

According to Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, Director of Family Health Services at the Ministry, these organizations have played a critical role in the strengthening of Jamaica’s Reproductive Health Programme, which aims to lower total fertility rate from 2.8 to 2.4 and MMR from 106 to 80 by the end of this year. 

The Conference aimed to share the regional interagency strategic consensus for the reduction of maternal mortality and morbidity in Latin America and the Caribbean, review and assess Jamaica’s achievements in the provision of Safe Motherhood services, share recent research findings, as well as develop a national strategic framework for Safe Motherhood. 

Minister of Health, Hon. John Junor opened the conference. International perspectives was given on such topics as the Regional Interagency Strategic Consensus for Reduction of MMR by Dr. Vicky Camacho of PAHO, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights by Dr. Nieves Andino of UNFPA, Perinatal Mortality linked to Safe Motherhood Initiatives by  Dr. Osvaldo Legon of UNICEF and Why Mothers Die by Dr. Gwyneth Lewis of the World Health Organisation (WHO). They shared the platform with local luminaries such as Dr.Douglas McDonald who will speak on The Role and Function of Regional Maternal Mortality Committees, Near Misses; Dr. Olivia McDonald on Preventing Unwanted Pregnancies, Dr. Assette McCaw-Binns on Surveillance for Maternal Mortality and Dr. Wynante Patterson on Safe Abortions among others.

Dr. Lewis Bell said the Conference was presented against the background of the death of more than 500,000 women worldwide annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.  Studies show that in developed countries, maternal death is a rare event and the maternal morbidity and mortality (MMR) varies between 5-50 per 100,000 live births with an average of 27/100,000.  In developing countries, the average MMR is 480 per 100,000 live births.  Unsafe abortions account for some 13% of maternal deaths in developing countries and the lack of adequate health care with skilled birth attendants is also a contributing factor. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the average MMR is 190 per 100,000 live births and has stagnated for the past 15 years.  Dr Lewis- Bell noted that MMR is closely linked to socio-economic development, educational and employment opportunities for women as well as accessibility and availability of quality health care.

She said that MMR continues to be of concern in Jamaica, albeit it has remained constant for the past 20 years at about 100 per 100,000 live births.  The major causes of death continue to  include hypertensive disease, haemorrhage and sepsis.  However she noted that these direct causes have been declining over the past 4 years but indirect causes such as HIV/AIDS, violence, and other chronic conditions such as obesity and cardiac disease have been increasing.  Life stresses and their impact on mental health has also come to the fore as suicide has accounted for some cases of indirect maternal deaths in recent times she said. 

Dr. Lewis Bell said the Conference targetted primarily select professionals in the medical community locally and regionally.




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