Too many women die in childbirth, and too many babies die during delivery.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo at the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s hard to believe that in 2015, almost 6 million children under age 5 and more than 300,000 mothers died from complications of childbirth.

Bustreo heads a new program to reduce these deaths by half within the next five years, and to end preventable infant and maternal deaths by 2030 in nine high-risk countries — Bangladesh, India, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. This will be done through a new “Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.” It will have support from UNICEF and WHO, where Bustreo is the assistant director-general for family, women’s and children’s health.

“The dynamics we are trying to create is to have the partners and players within each country to create their targets, so that they own those targets, and they are also responsible and accountable to their own population for delivery,” Bustreo told VOA in a Skype interview from Geneva.

Countries are committed

The countries will provide training to health professionals so they can intervene in an emergency, whether it’s suctioning out amniotic fluid from a newborn’s airway so the baby can breathe, or stopping a women who has just given birth from hemorrhaging. Bustreo said a third of maternal deaths are linked to post-partum hemorrhaging, and most of the babies die on the day of their birth.

The countries in the network have high maternal and infant mortality rates, but Bustreo said they are fully committed to achieving these goals.  

They need to build or modernize health care facilities so there’s a consistent supply of running water and electricity. A number of facilities lack these necessities. These vital resources mean babies can be incubated and kept warm and mothers who need cesarean sections can have this surgery.

Well-trained staff a priority

Health care facilities have to be upgraded or built with their own sources of electricity, and the people who staff these facilities need training so they can perform lifesaving procedures expertly. “If you have a woman who delivers in a health care facility, but that facility does not provide well-trained health care workers or does not provide good quality care, you don’t see mortality reduction,” Bustreo explained.

In some regions, women traditionally give birth at home. The challenge is to get these women to give birth in clean, well-equipped health facilities. Bustreo said some of these women are afraid they will get infections or contract diseases.

The goal is ultimately to end preventable deaths of mothers and babies. But first, these countries are focusing on reducing maternal and infant death by half within the next five years.

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