Reproductive Health

India's High Maternal Death Rate Can Be Cured

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

While India has sophisticated health care that it offers to medical tourists, Nisha Varia says the same comprehensive and quality care has to be extended to all Indian women to lower the country's high maternal death rate.

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Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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Steps to Success

It does not have to be this way.

Successes in other parts of India offer practical ways forward to increase political will, health system accountability and, ultimately, better and more accessible care for pregnant women. You can see this, for example, in the state of Tamil Nadu, where the maternal mortality level is a third of that in Uttar Pradesh.

Several steps could spur greater progress in Uttar Pradesh. These include counting and investigating maternal deaths, identifying systemic shortcomings and revising local health care management accordingly. The state should develop early response systems, including a telephone hotline for health-related emergencies and an accessible mechanism to pursue grievances and redress.

Donor countries, like the United States, and international agencies should also provide technical and financial assistance to promote these changes.

Reducing the ratio of maternal deaths by 75 percent is a global priority, one agreed upon by governments worldwide as part of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which seek to eradicate global poverty by 2015.

As the 2015 deadline approaches, the lack of progress grows more alarming. While in the past 20 years the numbers of children dying before the age of 5 has dropped by 30 percent, the proportion of maternal deaths has remained roughly the same.

As India's private health facilities continue to make big business providing sophisticated health care to medical tourists, we too should make it our business to urge India's government to provide comprehensive, quality care to all Indian women, whether rich or poor.

Nisha Varia is a senior researcher in the women's rights division for Human Rights Watch.

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