Every day, approximately 800 women across the world die due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Asia accounts for a substantial number of these deaths with four South Asian Countries -Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and India contributing to highest proportion of these deaths. The complex socio-economic-political context and the geographical diversity of the region pose several challenges in addressing the high maternal mortality. Social determinants such as poverty, access to education, food and nutrition, water and sanitation have a direct bearing on health outcomes. Caste, class, religion, gender-based inequality, disability and geographical location further exacerbate the conditions and adversely impact the health of women, children and young people.
Early marriage, unsafe abortion, unintended pregnancies, poor coverage and acceptance of contraceptive services also contribute to the high maternal mortality and morbidity. A significant proportion of maternal deaths can be averted by adopting a continuum of quality care approach and ensuring universal coverage of care.
Several states have ratified major international conventions and are signatories to Plans and Programmes of Actions (International Conference on Population Development-ICPD, Beijing Platform for Action-BPfA, Millennium Development Goals-MDGs, and Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women-CEDAW) as well as the International Convention on Social and Cultural Rights (ICSCR) which oblige them to ensure the right to health of their people, and in particular women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rigths (SRHR). National governments are accountable for fulfilling their obligations and commitments as signatories to all these conventions and the UN Human Right’s Council Resolution 11/8 on Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (MMM) and human rights and Resolution 18/2 on the application of a human rights-based approach to the reduction of preventable MMM. While there has been some progress over the years, sufficient attention needs to be given to improve women’s comprehensive SRHR.
At a time when increased funding is directed towards specific interventions, this call is a timely and strategic one, drawing upon the internationally agreed principles.