Maternal Health: Accountability and Behavior Change

Calyn Ostrowski

Four days ago a young woman died giving birth in a bustling marketplace in New Delhi, just steps away from Parliament, and at the beginning of an international conference on maternal health. This is not acceptable.

Rewire is partnering with the Maternal Health Task Force to cover the Global Maternal Health Conference of 2010 underway in New Delhi, India from August 30th through September 1st 2010.

Four days ago a young woman died giving birth in a bustling marketplace in New Delhi. Just steps away from Parliament, this woman was left to die and no emergency care was sent to her–no midwives, nurses, or doctors; just people walking around her accepting the situation as normal and an uncontrollable way of life. But this is Delhi…not a remote tribal village where the nearest health clinic is hours away (on foot).

This juxtaposition lingers on in me as I sit in the plenary session of day two at the Global Maternal Health Conference and listen to Syeda Hameed, member of the Indian Parliament Planning Commission, discuss her recent visit to a remote village where every house has 10 children living in filth, flies, and emptiness.

Although I have been working on such development issues for the last five years I do not work in the field, nor do I visit the developing world on a regular basis. Hearing these stories, coupled with my firsthand experience of witnessing poverty here in Delhi reminds me of the daily reality of the estimated 342,900 women who die every year. This is their way of life and I think it’s poignant that today’s sessions emphasize community based care, family planning, accountability, behavior change, and culture.

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“Context, context, context,” said Wendy Graham of IMMPACT at yesterday’s plenary session. I agree, the context of social and cultural norms is an underlying factor that must be taken into consideration when implementing maternal and child health (MNCH) programs. With a background in psychology, I appreciated when Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, of Aga Khan University, recognized the toll of poverty on the imagination and the mentality of fatalism.

That is why it is so essential to “ask the people how they feel and bring their voices into the forums where policy decisions are made,” said Hameed. It is also important to hold key players accountable and include men in MNCH activities.

During the side session Male Involvement in Reproductive and Maternal and Newborn Health six field experts (in which half the panelists and audience members were men!) discussed effective methods for increasing male participation in family planning, vasectomies, gender equality, and hospital care.

The key findings from this discussion include:

  • Targeted interventions that educate men about danger signs and pregnancy complications correlates with behavior change and increased facility births.
  • Many young married men feel pressured to prove their fertility. A sample of men was evaluated and those who had increased education and income were more likely to delay first pregnancy.
  • Vasectomy is not something men want to talk about with family planning fieldworkers; however, official recognition of the vasectomy benefits by the government did increase referrals.
  • Puppet and theater shows that demonstrate gender equity behaviors provide an opportunity for dialogue. Women in this study reported increased gender equity in family planning decision-making.

There are so many variables that exacerbate the maternal mortality cycle, but evidence presented here provides REAL solutions.  It is time to scale up these solutions and political willpower will be essential.

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