Maternal Deaths Decline, but Women Remain Vulnerable


Maternal Deaths Decline, but Women Remain Vulnerable

April 14, 2010

The New York Times reports that for the first time in decades, researchers are citing a significant drop in the number of women worldwide dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth. Lower pregnancy rates, education, improved nutrition and better access to health care have propelled this global trend. But in developing countries, progress varies considerably. Even the most modest gains in women's health are often threatened by war, economic instability, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and gender-based discrimination. Fortunately, the depth and rigor of grassroots work, including the organizations that AJWS supports, is helping to change this.

Making Women's Health a Right, Not a Privilege

Sahayog, a volunteer-based organization in India, works with rural communities on women's health issues including reproductive health rights, women's empowerment and youth leadership. Founded in 1992, the organization works with men and youth to promote gender equality, end violence against women and educate youth on sexual and reproductive health. AJWS supports Sahayog's project "Women's Voices for Maternal Health," to build the capacity of grassroots women's organizations to monitor the quality of local maternal health services.

During Liberia's civil war of 1990-2003, Imani House, Inc. (IHI)—an AJWS-supported organization in Liberia led by Liberians and Liberian-Americans—ran community clinics to prevent and treat cholera, wounds and starvation-related illnesses. These clinics continue to operate to provide basic health care including immunizations, malaria treatment, obstetric and gynecological care and STI testing to 15,000 women and children in Brewerville, Liberia, where the post-conflict government has limited capacity to meet the needs of the local population.

Contrary to the collective decline of maternal mortality, in southern and eastern Africa, largely as a result of AIDS, maternal mortality rates continue to rise. Until health care becomes a universal right rather than a luxury for a privileged few, women's health will remain vulnerable. It is up to governments and grassroots groups to work together to fiercely address gender-based oppression and promote educational and health initiatives like those of Sahayog and Imani House to ensure that change is both swift and sustainable.