Call for accelerated efforts to reduce maternal, newborn mortality

Kathmandu, January 21

A group of experts has called for strengthening and expanding sexual and reproductive health services in member countries of World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region, to reduce deaths of mothers and babies, which despite substantial decline in recent years continue to be at unacceptable levels.

“Though millions of lives are now being saved due to efforts in recent years, it is unacceptable that mothers or babies continue to die from preventable causes. We must focus on neglected sexual and reproductive health issues such as post-pregnancy family planning, comprehensive abortion care and prevention and management of cervical cancer,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia at the South-East Asia Region’s Technical Advisory Group meeting.

The group acknowledged that many countries in the region have made significant progress since 1990 contributing to 69 per cent decline in maternal deaths by 2015; 70 per cent reduction in under-five deaths and 60 per cent reduction in newborn mortality by 2018. However, stillbirths need urgent attention as their reduction has been at 31.7 per cent between 2000 and 2015. More needs to be done to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals for health.

“Preventable maternal mortality and stillbirths are interlinked and interdependent,” said Dr Singh, adding that the right mix of quality

services and high coverage of essential interventions, particularly around the time of birth, can save the lives of many mothers and their newborns, and reduce stillbirths. Progressive and significant increase in institutional deliveries in the region offers a good opportunity to build on further efforts.

Early marriage and adolescent pregnancies increase the health risk to both mothers and babies, especially, as the young mothers themselves are under-nourished and anaemic. Countries must invest in health services tailored to the needs of their adolescent population, including access to sexual and reproductive health related information, the Technical Advisory Group recommended.

Quality abortion services, including post-abortion care and increasing access to contraception, are other areas to focus on. Every year nearly six million women are treated for complications related to unsafe abortions in the region.

The TAG recommended ensuring quality antenatal care services, especially in the third trimester, for identifying complications and taking remedial measures to minimise impact on mothers, their unborn and newborns. Increased budgets for health, particularly for maternal and child health programmes, trained health workforce, especially midwifery personnel, access to essential services and medicines, and continued focus on institutional deliveries, are key to reduction of maternal, child and neonatal deaths, the TAG, which met in New Delhi on 15 and 16 January, reiterated.

High quality sexual and reproductive health services are integral to any drive towards universal health coverage. Access to quality services is a right of everyone, everywhere, said Regional Director Singh.