Dispatch

03 February 2010

Report Documents Challenges to Maternal Health in Haiti Even Before the Earthquake

NEW YORK — Even before the catastrophic earthquake, pregnancy in Haiti was perilous. With 1 in 44 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth, Haiti is the most dangerous place to give birth in the Western Hemisphere.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, UNFPA is prioritizing providing maternal health services for the approximately 63,000 pregnant women in the affected area, 7,000 of who will give birth in the next month. The challenges in quality health care, transportation, education, nutrition that contributed to country’s poor maternal health situation have only been exacerbated by the earthquake and must be addressed with even greater urgency.

A film crew from the Public Broadcasting Service was investigating this ongoing emergency when the earthquake struck, disrupting the entire health sector. Their report, which aired last week on NOW, explores how Haiti had been working to make motherhood safer and the obstacles it faced even before the massive destruction. Key among them are three delays faced by pregnant women: delays in seeking obstetric care, delays in reaching a facility where they can receive proper care, and delays in getting treated one they arrive.

Support for midwives’ training has been a key role for UNFPA in Haiti, which is one of 15 countries with high maternal mortality that receive priority under the Maternal Health Thematic Fund. However, the country’s only midwifery school sustained structural damage that has put it out of commission for the time being. The school was graduating 38 much-needed midwives each year.

Although the challenge of keeping mothers alive, and keeping their newborns safe, has never been more daunting, UNFPA believes that with adequate funding, public support, and wider application of basic interventions, maternal deaths can be reduced by 70 per cent. Some 200,000 Haitian women are estimated to be pregnant, and 63,000 of them were affected by the earthquake.