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UN urges DoH to probe why 11 mothers die due to pregnancy or childbirth

© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Gonzales
A pregnant woman receives free pre-natal care services during a Mothers’ Day celebration at the SM City Manila.

DoH launches strategy to reduce maternal and newborn deaths

Manila, 11 May 2009 – Kicking off a week-long celebration to promote safe motherhood, the UN in the Philippines urges the Philippine government to look into the primary reasons why roughly one woman every two hours dies due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

“We need to understand why despite the available health care services for them, many of our pregnant women choose to deliver without the proper care of skilled health workers,” said Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF representative at a Mother’s Day celebration at the SM Supermall in Manila.

Tobin officially presented to the Philippine government UNICEF’s flagship publication, “The State of the World’s Children Report.” This year’s report focuses on maternal and newborn health. It highlights the link between maternal and neonatal survival, and suggests opportunities to close the gap between rich and poor countries.

“Reducing maternal deaths is one of the global goals that are least likely to be achieved by the Philippines by 2015. This situation presents a major challenge. A huge effort is needed to improve public reproductive and maternal health services and educate mothers, that is why UNICEF seeks involvement through partnering with government and non-government actors, as well as other UN agencies in building capacities and upgrading facilities to serve pregnant women and newborn babies,” Tobin said.  

In the Philippines, the lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 140. Around 11 Filipino mothers die everyday or an estimated 4,500 every year due to severe hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, sepsis and problems related to obstructed labor and abortion. The Philippines is among 68 countries which contribute to 97 per cent of maternal, neonatal and child health deaths worldwide. About half of the deaths of Filipino children under five happen in the first 28 days of life.

The UNICEF report says women in the world’s least developed countries are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in developed countries. At the same time, a child born in a developing country is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a child born in a developed one.

“The health and survival of mothers and their newborns are linked, and many of the interventions that save new mothers’ lives also benefit their infants,” Tobin said.

In response to the UNICEF report, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III stressed the government’s commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on maternal health. “We are mobilizing our resources to improve services especially for pregnant women and newborns.”

Duque signed into force a department order, mandating all related government agencies to support the government’s “Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Care and Nutrition” (MNCHN) strategy. The strategy aims to strengthen facility-based services for pregnancy and childbirth. It also provides local governments a guide to plan and implement services and governance interventions, and to strengthen public and private partnerships.

“Partnership plays a critical role in our aim to save the lives of mothers and their babies,” Duque said.
The Australian government, through its Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), has pledged over US$ 4 million to fund a joint programme of the UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO on Maternal and Newborn Survival. This joint programme will support the implementation of the government’s MNCHN strategy.

“Saving the lives of mothers and their newborns requires more than just medical intervention,” said Titon Mitra, AusAID Minister Counsellor. “Community education and advocacy also need to be in place.”

Speaking to over 400 pregnant women who were treated to free pre-natal care check-up, other UN agency heads pledged support to the campaign of the Philippine government to reduce maternal and newborn deaths. UNFPA representative Suneeta Mukherjee stressed that the UN advocates that all pregnancies should be safe because this is an essential right of women. WHO representative Dr. Soe Nyut-U noted that health services are most effective in an environment supportive of women’s empowerment, protection, and education.   

To lower maternal and infant mortality, the State of the World’s Children 2009 report recommends essential services be provided through health systems that integrate a continuum of home, community, outreach and facility-based care. This continuum of care concept transcends the traditional emphasis on single, disease-specific interventions, calling instead for a model of primary health care that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn and child health.

Increasing the coverage of births supervised by skilled health professionals, especially midwives, as well as providing essential lifesaving care for mother and newborn before, during or after birth in emergency obstetric care facilities is crucial.

In addition, it is essential to increase women's access to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies through quality health services. It is also important to improve their nutritional status, especially prevention of iron and folate deficiencies, though supplementation and strengthening food fortification programmes.



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