More than 5 million families across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean spend over 40% of their non-food household expenses on maternal health services every year, says UNICEF’s new analysis on maternal health released in the Women Deliver 2019 conference in Canada.
Nearly two-thirds of these households, or around 3 million, are in Asia while approximately 1.9 million are in Africa. According to the analysis, the costs of antenatal care and delivery services can deter pregnant women from seeking medical attention, endangering the lives of mothers and their babies.
“For far too many families, the sheer costs of childbirth can be catastrophic. If a family cannot afford these costs, the consequences can even be fatal,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “When families cut corners to reduce maternal health care costs, both mothers and their babies suffer.”
The report notes that although much progress has been made around the world in improving women’s access to maternal services, every day over 800 still die from pregnancy-related complications. At least 7,000 stillbirths also occur every day, half of these babies who were alive when labor began, and 7,000 babies die in the first month of life. The reality is stark for the poorest women. Across South Asia, three times as many rich women receive four or more antenatal care visits than women from poorer families.
The report also notes that globally, pregnancy-related complications are the number one cause of death among girls between 15 and 19 years of age. Because adolescent girls are still growing themselves, they are at great risk of complications if they become pregnant. In addition, their children are at higher risk of dying before their fifth birthday. Yet the report finds that child brides are less likely to receive proper medical care while pregnant or to deliver in a health facility, compared to women married as adults.
UNICEF is calling on the governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every mother and child alive by:
• Investing financial resources in health systems, starting at the community level;
• Recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
• Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
• Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
• Empowering adolescent girls and families to demand and receive quality care.