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PAHO calls for action to reduce maternal mortality

June 22, 2024

WASHINGTON, Jun 22, CMC – The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr. Jarbas Barbosa has issued an urgent call to action to reduce maternal mortality in the Americas, including the Caribbean. 

According to PAHO, in 2020, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced one maternal death every hour, reversing two decades of progress in maternal health indicators in the region. 

“These figures not only indicate a worsening of outcomes but also a deepening of inequalities and depict unacceptable tragedies that in most cases could be preventable,” said Dr. Barbosa in addressing a PAHO seminar on “Zero Preventable Maternal Deaths.”

“The number of deaths among pregnant women does not align with the level of development of this region,” he added, emphasising the urgent need to tackle this discrepancy. 

PAHO said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of the region’s health infrastructures, exacerbating inequalities in access to health services, with a particular impact on women. 

The maternal mortality ratio increased by 15% between 2016 and 2020, PAHO said. 

However, even before the pandemic, it said the maternal mortality ratio in the Americas showed signs of stagnation, driving the region away from achieving set targets and commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sustainable Health Agenda for the Americas. 

According to PAHO’s Basic Health Indicators, updated in 2023, over 90% of women receive at least four prenatal visits; about 97% of births take place in health facilities, and over 96% are attended by qualified personnel.

Additionally, PAHO said coverage of sexual and reproductive health services exceeds 80%. 

“We need to examine why this investment does not translate into better outcomes,” said Dr. Barbosa, stating that multiple factors influence maternal mortality, including socioeconomic, cultural, educational and environmental aspects.

To address these challenges, Barbosa urged the implementation of strategies that include interventions to address situations of vulnerability and “gender norms and roles.” 

“The health sector must be a transformative agent for change,” said Barbosa, highlighting that nine out of 10 maternal deaths could be avoided through universal access to quality maternal care and modern contraceptive methods, among other resources. 

“Expanding health systems based on Primary Health Care to ensure universal health access and coverage could be the critical factor to reduce maternal mortality in the region,” he added. 

PAHO said its strategy to accelerate the reduction of maternal mortality provides an action framework that can be adapted to each country and context, with complementary and integrated actions. 

Barbosa called on countries to prioritise this issue and commit to implementing the strategy, focusing action at the local level, especially for women living in the most vulnerable conditions. 

“Our countries must provide the necessary resources for action, mobilising all sectors, including academia, civil society, and the most impacted communities,” the PAHO director added.

(Photo: UNICEF)

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