Maternal health is a human right

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Every 90 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman — most likely living in poverty — dies giving birth. That’s almost 1,000 women every day; more than 350,000 women each year. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable.  

Most maternal deaths occur in the developing world, but developed nations are also affected. The U.S. currently ranks behind 49 other nations in terms of maternal mortality, with two to three women dying every day and tens of thousands more suffering complications that nearly result in death. In the U.S., New Mexico ranks No. 49 in the number of maternal deaths. There was a case right here in Las Vegas last year.

As Mamoud Fathalla, past president of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said: “Women are not dying of diseases we can’t treat … They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Maternal deaths are not just a public health emergency — they are a human rights crisis. They represent violations of essential human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to freedom from discrimination based on such factors as gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, Indigenous status, and income level.

The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 (HR 894) has been introduced in the United States Congress by Rep. Jon Conyers and co-sponsored by Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall are being urged to introduce Senate companion legislation to this vital piece of legislation that can make a real difference in the lives of pregnant women.

It will help establish a maternal mortality review board in every state. New research and pilot programs will fight disparities in maternal health outcomes. It will also help prevent severe maternal complications by improving and expanding research, data collection and analysis.

Sonya Berg
Las Vegas