Making motherhood safer for women worldwide – A look at the UNFPA at work – Part 1

November 28, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Gap Medics students with a patient on the maternity ward in Chiang Mai The United Nations Population Fund is a sub-organisation of the United Nations that focuses on making pregnancies and births safer around the world. For the UNFPA, making motherhood safer is a top priority, especially in poor, developing countries where women face high risks of pregnancy-related illnesses and maternal death because of rampant poverty, illiteracy and an ingrained gender bias. The organisation has been working tirelessly to raise awareness about the major pregnancy risks in these countries and putting in place measures that will help reduce the shockingly high rates of maternal morbidity.


Since the organisation’s launch in 1959, the number and rate of maternal deaths, whether from childbirth or pregnancy related complications, has been halved. Although that is impressive in itself, a lot still remains to be done.


The disparity in maternal mortality rates around the world

80% of maternal deaths anywhere in the world are due to hypertensive disorders or eclampsia, severe bleeding, obstructed labour, unsafe abortions and sepsis.

All of these conditions can be effectively treated at properly equipped health facilities staffed by trained professionals. In such settings, many mothers with pregnancy-related complications as well as their newborns who might otherwise die, can also be saved. When you consider the lower mortality rate in developed countries where women give birth surrounded by the latest healthcare resources it is plain to see that the lack of resources is the main cause of the higher mortality rates in developing nations.

In an effort to make childbirth safer for mothers as well as babies in these countries, the UNFPA aims to ensure that all births take place in appropriate health facilities. In the interim, before such a long-term goal can be reached, the Fund is working towards ensuring that all women and newborns with complications get quick and easy access to well-functioning facilities where they can receive life-saving, emergency obstetric care. This could be through district hospitals, upgraded maternity centres or mobile health units. 

But maternal deaths are only one part of the picture. Surviving childbirth, but enduring chronic ill health is the other side and it can be equally devastating.

According to reports, for every woman who dies in childbirth, there are about 20 others who survive and face serious, long-lasting consequences, which could include anaemia, chronic infection, damaged pelvic structure, impaired productivity and depression. All of these go unreported. However, the fallout of these health issues can be disastrous not just for the individual women but for their entire family and even the entire community.

Women who survive these pregnancy-related complications, which can be life threatening, often require extended recovery times and endure long-term social, physical, economical and psychological consequences. The mother’s chronic ill health can also put her children at great risk. The high on going cost of healthcare combined with increasing dependency and lost productivity may drive these women and their families into poverty. Chronic pain and the inability to provide any positive contribution often leads to marital problems, social isolation, shortened life spans, household dissolution and even suicide.  


Look out for Part 2 to learn about what the UNFPA is doing to make motherhood safer around the world and the career opportunities available.