The UN agency dedicated to improving reproductive and maternal health worldwide appealed on Monday for $2.5 billion by 2030 to help avert potential “dire consequences” surrounding pregnancies and maternal deaths.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) announced the next phase of its Supplies Partnership to secure essential contraception and maternal health medicines for millions of women and adolescent girls over the next decade.
“The global community must act now with commitments to support women and girls”, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said in a statement. “Failing to do so will have dire consequences: more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions and more women dying from preventable causes”.
With an estimated investment of $2.5 billion by 2030, the renewed partnership has the potential to prevent 141 million unintended pregnancies, 328,000 maternal deaths, and 42 million unsafe abortions by that time. This could prove advantageous for Pakistan since its maternal mortality rate is very high. However, according to the recent Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey, it was noticed that the country saw a decrease in the death rate.
According to the survey, the maternal mortality rate decreased from 276 deaths to an average of 186 deaths per 100,000 live births. However, if we break this down provincially, the numbers depict inconsistency; Punjab has 157 deaths per 100,000 live births, KP has 165; Sindh has 224; and Balochistan has 298 maternal deaths, the highest in the country.
Adverse effects of shutting down maternity wards
Despite mitigation efforts, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed or even reversed many countries’ decades of progress in family planning, while pandemic-related restrictions, such as lockdowns, together with fears of contracting the virus, have led to fewer women seeking reproductive health services.
In a developing country like Pakistan, which already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in South Asia, closure of maternity wards during the pandemic has only exacerbated the sexual and reproductive healthcare challenges faced by women, especially ones that live below the poverty line.
The decision to close maternity wards was taken by Pakistani authorities after staff members and doctors started contracting Covid-19. Approximately 500 health workers were infected in May of this year, a poll by WHO revealed. Similarly, hospitals in cities like Peshawar and Islamabad were closed for the same reason. It was undoubtedly imperative to do so, however, it also had adverse effects on women’s health in Pakistan.
UNFP urges to prioritize women’s health
“With countries leading the charge, we must rally to improve women’s health and well-being globally, especially at this time of heightened vulnerabilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”, urged the UNFPA head.
Countries and partners around the world are making bold commitments to support the next phase of the program, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom – together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kühne Foundation, according to UNFPA.
To date, contraceptive and maternal health services supplied by the program have had the potential to avert 89 million unintended pregnancies, 227,000 maternal deaths, 1.4 million children’s deaths, and 26.8 million unsafe abortions. And since 2007, the UNFPA Supplies program has mobilized more than $1.8 billion in support.
In August of this year, Dr. Nausheen Hamid, Parliamentary Secretary of National Health Services (NHS) Pakistan, while speaking at a UNFPA event expressed how important it is to make accessibility of health facilities for women a priority.
“With a six-fold increase in our population since independence, there are challenges of socio-economic development. The situation is aggravated by the urbanization process. The size of the population and the urbanization process obviously place pressure not only on health facilities but also on other development initiatives. But let me assure you that the government is determined to deal with these challenges by prioritizing and ensuring a fair distribution of resources,” Dr. Hamid said.
At the same event, Lina Mousa, a UNFP representative said: “The results are encouraging and provide reliable data for policy development and programme planning for maternal and child health.”
“Though there is a decline in the maternal mortality ratio compared to 276 per 100,000 in 2006/07, Pakistan has to do more for women who are least likely to receive adequate healthcare, residing in remote areas with lower numbers of skilled birth attendants or health facilities, and strive to achieve universal maternal health coverage,” she added.
“A more inclusive and prosperous world can only be achieved by addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people, and that’s exactly what we’re working towards in this Partnership”, Karina Gould, Canadian Minister of International Development, said in a press statement.