Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, which took on three persistent myths that block progress for the poor. In the same spirit, this week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we take on:
In the 21st century, women don’t die while giving birth.
Mythbuster: Elesha Kingshott, senior policy and advocacy associate for reproductive, maternal, and newborn health at PATH.
We may be well into the 21st century, but devastating maternal deaths are not yet a thing of the past. About 800 women die every day from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth. Almost all of them live in poor countries, and most of their deaths could be prevented.
Let me give you just a few examples of how we can change pregnancy and childbirth from a time of worry to a time of joy.
Solutions that save lives
It’s estimated that 40 million women in less-developed countries give birth at home, with no skilled birth attendant to help. Helping women gain access to health facilities and teaching community members to watch for danger signs and handle emergencies—as PATH’s Sure Start project did in India—leads to fewer complications for mothers and their babies.
About a third of maternal deaths could be avoided by delaying pregnancy, spacing births, preventing unintended pregnancy, and avoiding unsafely performed abortions. One solution is to help women access effective and convenient contraception to control the timing and spacing of their children.
Excessive bleeding during or just after childbirth accounts for about a quarter of all maternal deaths. It’s also a complication with proven interventions. Medicines such as oxytocin and misoprostol, for example, can prevent excessive bleeding for less than US$1 a dose. And the nonpneumatic antishock garment has the potential to keep a mother experiencing excessive bleeding alive until she can be transported to a health facility with a higher level of care.
These and other innovations make a difference. From 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths worldwide dropped by 47 percent. While women still do die while giving birth, we’re working toward the day when all mothers have the help they need to deliver their babies safely, no matter where they live.