Every year some 77,000 women die from pregnancy-related health problems in India
by Nirmala Carvalho
The government has so far been unable to cope with the problem, especially in rural areas. Inadequate blood supplies and poor facilities are ongoing issues. And violence against women during their pregnancies is also a major cause in early child mortality. The Church has been actively addressing such issues.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In 2003 the maternal mortality rate stood at 300 per 100,000 births, the Home Affairs Ministry reported on Saturday. Such a high rate, including localised increases, indicates that the government has failed to meet the millennium target of 200 per 100,000 births it set for itself in 2000. At the same time, violence against pregnant women, especially domestic violence, continues to harm and kill children.

The state of Uttar Pradesh leads this grim list with 517 deaths per 100,000 births, followed by Assam (490), Rajasthan (445), Madhya Pradesh (379), Bihar (371) and Karnataka (228). By contrast, in Kerala there are “only” 110 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

In many states the situation has actually worsened. In Andhra Pradesh for instance the rate has gone from 150 in 1999 to 195 in 2003. In Assam and Karnataka the rate rose from 409 and 195 respectively. Things also got worse in states that had below national average rates like Tamil Nadu (134), Maharashtra (149) and Gujarat (172).

One third of all women who die are between 20 and 24 years of age. Haemorrhaging accounts for 38 per cent of all deaths, followed by infections (11 per cent) and abortion (8 per cent).

Health and Family Welfare Ministry sources said that the government has launched a National Rural Health Mission with special emphasis on improving the health status of rural women. Its goal is to lower the maternal mortality rate to fewer than 100 per 100,000 within.

Dr Wilma Carvalho, who works at the St Ignatius Hospital in Honavar, Karnataka, told AsiaNews “that anaemia is an acute problem in pregnant women, so is haemorrhaging.”

Inadequate blood bank facilities are also another problem because “the rules one must follow to set one up are so rigid. Donors are also too few. This means that blood is very often unavailable in cases of emergency. And in rural areas women are also not careful enough in post natal follow-ups. Too often superstitious practices override medical treatment,” she said.

Mgr John Thakur, bishop of Muzaffarpur and chairman of the Commission for Women of the Bishops’ Conference of India, told AsiaNews that the Church is actively involved in raising awareness among women about their health in cooperation with local health authorities.

“The Church,” he said, “has been reaching out to the local communities for decades, including those in the remotest areas, with its mobile clinics and dispensaries and providing care irrespective of caste and creed.”

“We work non stop through private agencies as well,” he stressed, “to bring health care to the poorest. Our nursing homes and ‘Mother n’ Child’ centres provide much needed health assistance to rural areas.”

In a related study, the American Journal of Public Health published by the John Hopkins University found that about 20 per cent five still-births and early infant deaths are due to domestic violence during pregnancy.

Babies, whose mothers are exposed to domestic violence during pregnancy, are more than twice as likely to die in the first weeks of life.

Done in Uttar Pradesh, the study involved 2,199 women. It showed a correlation between violence during pregnancy and early infant death. Babies were in fact 2.5 times more likely to die during the prenatal period—defined as from 28 weeks of pregnancy to 7 days after birth—and 2.3 times more likely to die in the first month after birth.