South Africa Criticized for Poor Maternal Care

A recent report by the Human Rights Watch revealed a much higher maternal mortality rate in South Africa as compared to other African countries, including Swaziland, Uganda, and Ghana, despite South Africa’s status as one of Africa’s wealthiest nations. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, the rate of maternal deaths has increased by 400% since 1998, to 625 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

The report also notes the poor quality of maternal care in South African hospitals. Human Rights Watch noted that that 90% of South African women give birth at medical facilities, which is one of the best rates in Africa. However, the facilities where these women give birth are often sub-standard, employing corrupt and untrained staff members and suffering from physician shortages and a general lack of accountability.

South Africa’s high maternal mortality rate could also be attributed in part to the country’s history of apartheid, in particular its corrosive effect on education, impairing both the quantity of trained midwives and their quality and attitude, Robert Pattinson of the South African Medical Research Council told the Los Angeles Times. Pattinson stated, “Undoubtedly, there’s a very severe health staff shortage. There’s a problem with the caring attitude. A lot of that will be explained by burnout of people just having too much work to do.”

National Partnership for Women & Families 9/19/11; Los Angeles Times 9/16/11; Human Rights Watch 8/12/11

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