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India struggles to achieve maternal health

December 14, 2009
A woman holds her nephew in rural India. Her sister, the boy's mother, died in childbirth. Photo courtesy of Susan Melselas/Magnum Photos

Despite the UN Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal deaths by 75% before 2015, India, among other countries, struggles with preventable maternal deaths every day. Unlike countries like Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, India is not a war torn country with an unstable health care system. In an op-ed for Women’s eNews, Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, discusses the discrepancy between health care options for wealthier, often foreign women, and the lack thereof for poor Indian nationals. As with most maternal deaths worldwide, those in India are often preventable but for the lack of proper technology and funds. Shockingly, 25% of all worldwide maternal deaths (500,000 a year) occur in India, with 1 in 70 Indian women (or girls) dying from pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortions.

Varia gives suggestions for improvement, including accurately tracking the deaths, fulfilling the country’s previously set goals for improvements and properly stocking existing clinics with resources.

  1. Jessica Mack permalink*
    December 14, 2009 10:55 am

    Great post because this is such an egregious issue! I know I’ve gone on this toot before, but unsafe abortion is also one of the leading causes of maternal death and injury in India…crazy considering India has one of the more liberal abortion laws in the developing world. Abortion is supposed to be safe and legal, and yet many women find themselves in back alleys due to the poor infrastructure of health care there and discrimination against poor and low caste women. I’m glad Human Rights Watch continues to draw attention to this issue, because it is indeed a human rights issue.

  2. Kohinoor Devroy permalink
    April 28, 2010 3:42 am

    Health care remains another huge concern. According to a recent Planning Commission assessment, the shortfall of primary health centres and sub-centres in 2008 has remained almost the same as in 2005, and the number of auxiliary nurse midwives has, in fact, decreased over the same period. Today, there is a 50 per cent shortfall in trained health workers, radiographers, lab technicians and doctors. At the existing rate, only 62 per cent deliveries will be attended by skilled personnel by 2015 – with rural areas being particularly under-serviced.

    Sanitation, unfortunately, has never been a policy priority for India despite that fact that drinking water contaminated by faecal matter is a major cause of child deaths. The Report admits that India has the lowest sanitation coverage in the world – in 2007-08, an estimated 66 per cent of rural households did not have toilet facilities.


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