Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

Maternal Health: A Human Right?

on May 13, 2011

So, my professor handed me a disk from Amnesty International about Maternal Health as a human right. So I thought, okay, I’ll take a look at it and see what sort of information I can find. Because I am, for the most part, on board with this. I think that health care, in general, is a human right because we should have a right to live and to have a life, but I think that maternal health care is one of those areas that should be a right because it is so preventable. A lot of complications of child birth we do know how to treat. Giving women the right to maternal health care is giving women the right to life. My only hesitation is that sometimes this includes “family planning” a blanket term often used to cover abortion and the birth control pill, which I wrote about earlier as being bad for women.

According to Amnesty International, “more than 350,000 women die from complications pregnancy and childbirth – that’s one woman every ninety seconds. Most of these deaths could have been easily prevented if women had timely access to quality maternal and reproductive health care services.” – Source (This will be my source for everything in this post since I’m taking my information off of their disk). If you do the math, that’s more than 350,000 in one year. Can you even fathom that? It is hard for women in rural areas to reach health facilities. More than 95 percent of women and girls who die from this are from less-developed countries, but plenty die in marginalized or poor communities in rich countries. Two examples of less-developed countries would be in Sierra Leone where 1 in every 21 women dies in childbirth and Burkina Faso where 4,000 women die every year. I think, however, these are more the stories we are familiar with, so I won’t spend much time on them. We know that women in underdeveloped countries die, but we forget about the ones who are dying in our own backyards. Not that it is less tragic, I just want to remind you that this isn’t something that happens to “other people.” Because certainly, 1 in 21 women, like in Sierra Leone is truly tragic and something definitely needs to be done about that.

But I want to spend a little time on the US, just so you understand this isn’t just a “poor country” problem. Did you know (and I find this shocking) that in 1987 6.6 women per 100,000 live births died in the US. That seems like a low number. And albeit, it is an admittedly low number. But then you look at in 2006, it was 13.3 per 100,000 live births. That’s a low number also comparatively, but that’s not the shocking part to me. The shocking part is that even though medical technology has increased since 1987, more women die. If technology is increasing, shouldn’t the number of deaths go down? In 1998, under the Healthy People 2010 goals the United States wanted to drop that number to 4.3, but instead it has gone up and only five states have met that goal. 5 out of 50. And, lest you think it’s because we’re not investing enough money, we spend more on health care than any other country and more on maternal health care than any other type of health care. In a woman’s risk of death from pregnancy and complications, we 41st in the world. If you want to see how we stack up, a woman in childbirth is three times less likely to die in Spain, four times less likely to die in Germany, and five times less likely to die in Greece. And that’s only looking at deaths. The number of women who suffer a severe pregnancy complication in terms of the woman’s health is 1.7 million in a single year. 1.7 million. And there is also a race divide – African-American women? 5.6 times more likely to die when compared to white women in the US; in New York City their ratio is 83.6 per 100,000 live births. Here, in the US. Amnesty International places the blame for this on poverty, but I think there are more factors (I’m just not sure what they are yet – possibly the medicalization of childbirth as the system is set up to make women birth in very unnatural ways). Some other potential factors are the cost of health care and the fact that many insurance companies either don’t cover pregnant women or exclude maternal care. That’s if you even have insurance in the first place. There is also the fact that many women lack the needed prenatal care, which makes you three or four times more likely to die in childbirth. This hits minority women the hardest as they are even more unlikely to receive prenatal care (including Native Americans and Alaska Natives). Amnesty International also feels that women in the US receive inadequate postpartum care. Another potential problem is that maternal health care isn’t up to speed. One example cited is that medical science has shown that blood clot risk can be reduced after surgery with compression stockings or drugs but this isn’t always done after a c-section. Another fact that I personally believe has a lot to do with it is our use of C-sections. 1 in 3 women in America give birth via c-section, higher than WHO’s recommended guidelines (at max, 15 percent), which gives them a risk of death that is three times higher than having the baby the natural way.

This is a problem that is happening in our own backyard. Wisconsin’s rate is 7.2 per 100,000, so less than national average, but still not great. Compared to the other states, we rank 13th, so not horrible, but not that great either. Our state doesn’t mandate that employer plans cover care for pregnant women nor do they mandate reporting maternal deaths. 15.1 percent of women across the board and 27.4 percent of women of color don’t get prenatal care until late in their pregnancy or even at all. Granted, our c-section rate is a little bit lower than national average, but at 25 percent even it is still higher than recommended.

Like I said before, women deserve a right to life, especially pregnant women. That right to life is a human right and it doesn’t and shouldn’t disappear just because you are pregnant and a woman.

Once again, this is my source Source

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