The Global Health Council released a report this week detailing how a lack of basic reproductive health services has caused millions of unintended pregnancies and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women around the world. From 1995-2000, more than 300 million unintended pregnancies resulted in the deaths of 700,000 women – with 64 percent of these deaths caused by complications resulting from abortions carried out in unsafe, unsanitary and often illegal conditions.
“Most of these unintended pregnancies and needless deaths could have been prevented had basic reproductive health services been made available to these women,” said Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council, the largest membership alliance of healthcare professionals and organizations dedicated to improving the quality of and access to health worldwide. “Failure to provide women with the means to plan, prevent or appropriately space their next pregnancy poses an extraordinary public health threat, one that can be addressed with modest resources.”
The report found that maternal mortality is highest in countries where women are least likely to have access to modern contraceptive services or any trained care during birth or delivery. In Afghanistan, which has the second highest rate of maternal mortality (Sierra Leone has the highest) with 1,700 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies, the vast majority of Afghan women do not receive contraceptives or prenatal care. Most deliver their babies at home, oftentimes, because their male family members will not give them permission to go to the hospital. Under the repressive rule of the Taliban, women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors and women doctors were not allowed to work. Currently, there are only 7,000 doctors to treat a population of 26 million people. “Some Afghans think if a woman dies giving birth, it is part of life,” Malalay Nazir, a physician in Afghanistan told the Washington Post. “Some think hemorrhaging or convulsions are a normal part of delivery. And some say if your wife is dying, don’t be sad or spend money on her; you can always get a new one.”