WASHINGTON – One woman dies every minute,and 4 million newborns die every year from pregnancy-related causes. Nearly all occur in the developing world. These are two of the many facts presented Tuesday at a congressional briefing about maternal mortality and obstetric fistula.
More than 300 million women in the developing world are living with short-term or long-term illnesses brought on by childbirth.
“Childbirth shouldn't be a death sentence,” Rep. Gwen S. Moore,D-Wis.,said at a news conference before the briefing.
Model Christy Turlington Burns and Geri Halliwell,the Spice Girl who is also United Nations Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador,pleaded at a news conference for more to be done in women's health both in the U.S. and internationally.
“It is a proven fact when you have a healthy woman,you have a healthy economy,” Halliwell said.
The five leading causes of death for mothers are hemorrhage,eclampsia (high blood pressure),unsafe abortion,sepsis and obstructed labor,according to womendeliver.org
Maternal mortality among U.S. black women in 2000 was almost four times the rate among non-Hispanic white women. American black women are at rising risk of suffering premature deliveries and low birth-weight babies.
Overall,one in five U.S. women experience major complications during pregnancy,and one in four will have serious complications during and after delivery.
The lifetime U.S. maternal mortality ratio is one death per 4,800 women,placing the country 41st on a list of 171 countries. It's one of the highest rates among industrialized nations. Ireland has the lowest rate,one per 47,600. At the bottom of the list are Afghanistan,Sierra Leone and Niger,where the rate is one in seven or eight. The United Nations compiled the list in 2007.
Dr. Yves Bergevin,coordinator of the U.N.'s maternal health fund, said,”Maternal mortality is the greatest health inequity in the world,one that affects only women,with a greater than one thousand-fold in lifetime risk between parts of Africa and industrialized countries,”
The Campaign to End Fistula reports that,for every woman who dies in childbirth,an estimated 20 survive but experience long-term disabilities,including organ failure,uterine rupture,infertility,pelvic pain,incontinence and obstetric fistula,holes in the birth canal that lead to leaks of urine and feces.
Obstetric fistula is preventable and can be treated with surgery. If surgery cannot correct the fistula,women undergo a procedure called a urostomy,and they wear a bag to collect their urine.
The average cost of surgery for obstetric fistula,post-operative care and follow-up support is $300.
In 2003,United Nations Population Fund and its partners launched the global Campaign to End Fistula,focusing on prevention,treatment and rehabilitation.
Sarah Omega Kidangasi from Kenya was raped when she was 19 and became pregnant. Her labor was obstructed,and the doctors at her local hospital lacked the supplies to treat the obstruction. She was referred to a mission hospital,but by the time she got there,her baby was dead and she had a fistula.
“The experience of leaking urine for 12 years has been full of humiliation,pain,self-pity,rejection and loneliness,” Kidangasi said at the briefing. She finally had surgery to correct the fistula.
Seven bills have been introduced addressing issues related to obstetric fistula – they would appropriate $34 million for preventing and treating fistula,promote an end to child marriage,provide reproductive health services,collect data,pay for research and establish an international task force to oversee the effort.
Rep. Lois Capps,D-Calif.,is the main sponsor of one of the seven,a bill aimed at reducing maternal mortality in the U.S. and abroad. Emily Kryder,a spokeswoman for Capps said she expects the bill to come up for a vote this week and expects it to pass.
“The long-term goals of the bill are to raise awareness about maternal mortality and the serious challenges associated with childbirth,reiterate the U.S. commitment to addressing women's health issues – increase funding and health education,” Kryder said in a telephone interview.