Maternal, neonatal mortality: Low-cost innovations can save lives

Speaker says educated mothers can take better care of themselves.

Sehrish Wasif November 27, 2013
It is a fact that Pakistan is lagging far behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 that is to reduce maternal and neonatal death rate. PHOTO: FILE


Despite the availability of cost-effective innovations and medicines which can save lives of mothers and newborns in the country, their use is not widespread, mainly due to lack of trained medical staff and limited outreach.

This was the crux of a lecture held on “Innovating to Save more Lives” by Prof. Harshad Sanghvi at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences on Wednesday.

It is a fact that Pakistan is lagging far behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 that is to reduce maternal and neonatal death rate. And most often the best excuse the government advances for the failure is financial constraint, but there are cost-effective innovations and methods that could help save millions of lives.

“Pre-eclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in Pakistan and it can be prevented by adopting three simple and inexpensive methods,”said Prof. Sanghvi, senior associate, Bloomberg School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, USA.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Prof. Sanghvi, who is also the vice-president aof Jhpiego, a non-profit organisation affiliated with the varsity, said, during pregnancy a urine test to check the protein level, regular monitoring of blood pressure and taking three misoprostol tablets immediately after delivering a baby to control excessive bleeding can help prevent maternal deaths.

“These can be easily done by a woman herself instead of relying on a health worker who is already overworked and not trained enough to provide all kinds of healthcare services,” he said.

Prof. Sanghvi further said that by increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate and encouraging the practice of exclusive breastfeeding can also help reduce maternal death rates and this again does not require a huge investment.

However, the major challenge hindering the widespread use of innovations is low literacy rate among women and lack of participation in decision-making, he said. “If a woman is educated and empowered she knows how to look after herself during and after pregnancy and how to avoid having more kids by adopting simple family planning methods.”

Pakistan is blessed with young talented engineering students who come up with new innovations for saving lives of mothers and infants but their work need to be commercialsed and introduced in health facilities, he stated. “We have knowledge but we lack understanding.”

New technologies can be procured from neighbouring countries and taken to the people who need it the most, he said. “When countries like Nepal and Bangladesh can reduce their maternal and neonatal death rates then why can’t Pakistan?”

Prof. Tabish Hazir, head of Paediatrics department, Pims, said reducing the number of pregnancies can ultimately help reduce  maternal and neonatal deaths in the country. “Men want more children because they don’t have to die during pregnancy, but women can access to options to avoid conception if they are empowered and literate.”

A number of cost-effective innovations are available in the world which have helped to overcome this issue, but in Pakistan they are a distant dream, he stated.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2013.


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