Women Leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean Seek New Alliances to Reduce Maternal Mortality

31 May 2010
Author: UNFPA

LIMA, Peru  — “At first, I did not understand why I was invited to this meeting. What do I have to do with maternal mortality?” said Josefina Duarte, a business leader from Paraguay. “Now I see the purpose: to engage different sectors of society in reducing maternal mortality.”

That is why the GTR (the Spanish abbreviation stands for Regional Working Group), a special working group on maternal mortality decided to bring together more than 60 politicians, civil society representatives, business leaders and UN officials here last week. The group comprises among others UNFPA, the Pan-American Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, Family Care International, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank.

The leaders agreed on a call to action, which emphasized the right to reproductive health services and the need to end discrimination and improve gender equality. The declaration also called for sexuality education and increased resources for reproductive health and family planning services.

Progress falls short of MDG target

The Latin America and the Caribbean region has seen an overall reduction of maternal mortality of about 25 per cent between 1990 and 2007, and even though some countries have achieved a significant reduction in mortality rates, the average figure falls dramatically short of the 75 per cent reduction aimed for through Millennium Goal 5 and agreed to by world leaders.

“Maternal mortality is not a women’s issue—it is an issue for society as a whole,” said Nidia Vilchez, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development in Peru.

Estimates show that eliminating maternal and neonatal mortality globally would boost productivity by $15 billion. It is also estimated that women contribute about one third of the global economic output through unpaid work as caregivers and farmers.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, about 130 women die for every 100,000 live births, but this figure hides deep inequalities both within the region and within countries.

Wide disparities, between and within countries

The average national mortality rate ranges from Haiti with 630 deaths per 100,000 live births to Uruguay with 10.6 deaths per 100,000 live births.

“Your chance for survival as a pregnant woman depends on where you are born, the color of your skin, your ethnicity and culture, whether you live in a city or in the countryside,” said Marcela Suazo, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNFPA.

Vulnerable groups such as those living in poverty, indigenous groups and very young teenagers (those under 15 years of age), have especially high mortality rates—a girl under 15 is five times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth than a woman aged 20. Mortality rates among indigenous women are often four times higher than the average rate for countries in the region.

“But we indigenous women are often seen as a vulnerable group—the subject of certain rights, but we would rather be active participants in decision-making,” said Tarcila Rivera, an indigenous leader from Peru’s Ayacucho region.

More resources needed, as well as political will

While participants agreed that resources alone will not help eliminate maternal mortality, they also stressed that financial contributions must increase if the region is to come closer to achieving Millennium Goal 5.

Recognizing that resources must be coupled with political will and translated into quality reproductive health services and education, Suazo called for a quadrupling of financial contributions for reproductive health and family planning services in the region—from $746 million in 2007 to 3.1 billion per year.

“We need political will, we need alliances and we need campaigns,” she said, “but without resources, we cannot achieve the goal.”

Representatives at the Lima-meeting will present its conclusions at Women Deliver, a global meeting on maternal health to be held in Washington, D.C. in June, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Population : 33 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 91%
Girls 88%

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