January 28, 2010

Haiti--No place to give birth

Amongst the survivors of the deadly earthquake in Haiti is an especially vulnerable, yet mostly invisible population: the more than 63,000 pregnant Haitian women who are without access to medical care or even a sanitary place to give birth. It’s not surprising that when disaster strikes, the risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, and other complications are higher. One doctor, unable to find space in the overcrowded hospital nearby, performed an emergency caesarean on a park bench.

While the earthquake has exacerbated the dangers for pregnant women and their children in Haiti, the dire need for access to reproductive health care, especially family planning, extends far beyond the current crisis. Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere (670 per 100,000 live births). A majority of married women would like to have no more children, but without access to family planning, they have no way to prevent a pregnancy. With close to 40% of women ages 15-49 who lack modern contraception, Haiti has experienced an explosion in population, especially among the most impoverished sectors of society who are most likely to have no access to health care. The resulting cycle of poverty is nearly inescapable for those born into it.

Effectively addressing the unmet need for family planning , both in Haiti and around the globe, is a matter of life or death. Every minute a woman dies from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, leaving more than two million children motherless each year. But if all women were empowered to plan and space their pregnancies as they wished, maternal mortality would drop by a third.

Like all women around the world, Haitian women want healthy lives for themselves and for their families. As relief continues to pour into the country and as plans are formed to rebuild what has been lost, we should insist that our foreign assistance includes effective strategies for ensuring that family planning services are available to all women who want and need them.

Katey Zeh

General Board of Church & Society, The United Methodist Church

Katey directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Project. Through education and advocacy, the goal of the project is to raise awareness among United Methodists in the United States about the importance of international family planning and reproductive health. The initiative is funded by the United Nations Foundation.

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