by Lewit Gemeda
What kills 800 women a day? The Taliban? ISIS? No. The answer is childbirth.
800 women every day translates to 33 women per hour, 99% of which live in the developing world. For example, a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa faces a 1 in 40 chance of dying during childbirth, or dying due to risks associated with pregnancy. The same woman in Europe would face a 1 in 3330 chance of dying during childbirth, or pregnancy. This just shows us how far we have to got to provide women in every society access to the care they need.
In an even sadder statistic, for every woman that dies in childbirth, 20 more suffer disease, or infection. That’s about 10 million women every single year. Again, this shows us the dire need for expanding global health systems, and focusing on the health needs of women in order to address this preventable catastrophe.
Despite these statistics, significant strides have been made in decreasing the maternal death rate since the 1990s. What hasn’t budged is the rate for adolescent pregnancy, maternal deaths, and HIV infection. Childbirth and complications from pregnancy remain the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 living in low-income, and middle-income countries. A significant lack of access to comprehensive sex ed, and contraceptive materials is what keeps the adolescent rate of pregnancy, maternal death, and infection high.
In addition, cultural practices driven by economic necessity, like child marriage, and gender based violence continue to contribute to unplanned, and unmanaged teen pregnancies. Simple interventions like expanding access to contraceptives, and educating young girls about their bodies, and safe sex would go a long way in combating the growing rate of teen pregnancies, HIV infection, and, potentially, adolescent maternal death.
Ultimately, expanding educational, and economic opportunities for girls is what will allow them to take full control of their reproductive health. Enrolling girls in primary school, and expanding the opportunities they have to continue with their education is one of the best measures that can be taken to ensure girls continuous autonomy. In addition to schooling, work must be done to remove legal barriers, like not being able to start a savings account, which prevent women from participating fully in the economy. The suffering endured by these mothers and adolescent girls is completely preventable. As global citizens we need to show that the life of every mother, and potential mother, is valued- because we really do owe them our lives.