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Kate Jongbloed

Dying from delays: expectant moms at risk

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Kate Jongbloed

Reading Time: 3 minutes

201207-MOZ-49-lprDelays in accessing health care during pregnancy and childbirth is putting expectant moms and their babies at risk in developing countries. Worldwide, 800 women die every single day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Maternal deaths don’t happen often here in Canada: all but 1% of maternal deaths are in the developing world. So, where are they happening exactly? More than ½ of all maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and 1/3 occur in South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan).

If moms are at risk, so are their babies. Every year in Africa, approximately 1 million babies are stillborn. At least 300,000 of these deaths occur during labour.

Deaths of moms and babies are even more tragic because most of them are preventable. We have strong evidence on proven, cost-effective ways to reduce maternal and child deaths. So why aren’t expectant moms and newborn babies getting the care they need?

The three delays

Less than  ½ of expectant mothers in sub-Saharan Africa deliver their babies in a health facility like a hospital or clinic. Just ½ of new moms in sub-Saharan Africa have a skilled birth attendant – a doctor, nurse or midwife – with them when they give birth.

Things are a little better in South Asia, but not a lot: 66% of women had a skilled birth attendant present, and 59% gave birth in a health facility.

Women and newborns often die of complications during pregnancy and following childbirth because of “the 3 delays” in getting emergency medical services, especially if they are giving birth at home. Plan has been working in Zimbabwe, Mali, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Ghana to help overcome each of the 3 delays.

1. Delay in recognizing complications and deciding to seek care

Women may delay seeking care because they, or the people in their support network (such as a traditional birth attendant or mother-in-law), don’t know when it’s time to get help. Hierarchical decision-making – for example, when a husband or mother-in-law is in charge – leaves women powerless to decide when to seek help.

Plan’s response: Plan has been training community health workers who visit the homes of expectant families to explain signs of complications and what to do if they occur. We’re also working with non-traditional yet influential groups – like fathers and community groups – to help them become strong advocates for expectant moms.

2. Delay in accessing transportation to care

Even when they’ve decided to seek help, women and girls face barriers to getting to the hospital or clinic to receive emergency services. When health facilities are a long way away, or transportation is expensive, it can prevent women from getting help in time. If expectant mothers don’t have their own income, or control over household income, prioritizing funds to seek health care can be a significant challenge.

Plan’s response: Plan has been providing emergency transportation options for moms in distress. In Tanzania, Plan supporters helped provide new ambulances to communities, benefiting everyone! We’re also providing cell phones to community health workers so they can call for referrals and advice in medical emergencies.

3. Delay in receiving appropriate, skilled care

Arriving at the hospital or clinic, expectant mothers may face long wait times in chronically understaffed facilities. Overworked staff may be un- or under-skilled. Patients may be asked to pay extra, or buy their own equipment and supplies. Young women, and women without a husband, may be treated poorly by hospital staff.

Plan’s response: By training health staff and equipping hospitals and clinics with supplies to help in obstetric and newborn emergencies, Plan is helping to reduce maternal and child deaths. We’re also supporting hospitals and clinics to use universal precautions to cut down on infections during and after childbirth.


Do your part to support expectant moms and their babies. For as little as $5, you can help. Donate now!