Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. While motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, for too many women it is associated with suffering, ill-health and even death. According to WHO, every day, 1,500 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. In 2005, there were an estimated 536, 000 maternal deaths worldwide. Most of these deaths occurred in developing countries, and most were avoidable.
A times of India report (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2461713.cms) quoting the Maternal Mortality report compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank revealed that more women die in India during childbirth than anywhere else in the world. Of the 5.36 lakh women who died during pregnancy or after childbirth in 2005 globally, India accounted for 1.17 lakh. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in India is 450 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The newspaper report also says that this finding is consistent with the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-III) that found that women in India lack quality care during pregnancy and childbirth. Almost one in four women (23%), who gave birth in the last eight years, received no antenatal care, ranging from 1% or less in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to 66% in Bihar. At least 40% of pregnant women did not get any antenatal care in Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
Home births are still common in India - accounting for almost 60% of recent births. NFHS-III found that 37% of deliveries were assisted by a traditional birth attendant, and 16% were delivered by a relative or other untrained person. According to WHO estimates, only 47 percent of the births were attended by skilled health personnel in 2006 ( Source: http://apps.who.int/whosis/database/core/core_select_process.cfm?countries=ind&indicators=BirthsAttended).
While poor maternal health is indicative of many flaws such as poor quality and inadequacy of outreach services, low levels of awareness, early age of marriage and child birth etc, the core of the problem lies in the low social status of women that deprives them of the most basic services and does not prioritize her health and well-being even during such a vulnerable stage as pregnancy and child birth. Unless the social attitudes change, we will continue to have mothers suffering or dying due to entirely preventable causes. Unfortunately, it is still acceptable to us- it is still a low priority.
Why is maternal health such a neglected issue in India?