5:08 pm - Thursday February 21, 1935

Maternal mortality rate in Bangladesh drops by 40pc

Sheuli Khatun recently gave birth to a girl – her first child – at Chittagong Medical College. For a woman from a remote village where labour at home in unsafe conditions is common, delivering a healthy baby was cause for celebration.

“A few weeks after I conceived I started going for a regular check-up with my doctor and routinely followed her advice,” Khatun, 21, told Khabar South Asia. “Times have changed and now expectant mothers know it’s extremely vital to visit doctors regularly for the well-being of the mother as well as the baby.”

Baby and Mother
Photo courtesy: Khabar South Asia

The Hathazari upazila native’s mother, Ayesha Begum, was not that lucky. She delivered each of her seven children at home.

“A few times I nearly faced death during delivery,” Begum said. “In those days, there were no trained midwives available in our village. In many cases, delivering babies meant a life and death question.”

This mother-daughter story illustrates a profound generational change in Bangladesh, thanks to a widespread awareness campaign and allocation of resources aimed at improving child and maternal health, experts say.

The change brought a 40% reduction in Bangladesh’s maternal mortality rate during the past decade.

According to official statistics, 574 out of 100,000 women died in 1990 during childbirth. That number fell to 322 in 2001 and 194 in 2011. Bangladesh is targeting 143 by 2015.

Addressing problem areas

The country invested heavily in emergency prenatal care, rural placement of trained midwives and a maternal health voucher scheme for poor women.

Community-based, skilled birth attendants, family planning projects and an immunisation programme were expanded.

With about 15% of deliveries taking place in hospitals, government officials say availability of trained birth attendants in rural areas rose substantially.

Former Health Minister A.F.M. Ruhul Haq told Parliament in November that rural delivery with trained midwives stood at 32%. The government is targeting 60% by 2015.

“If we can achieve that target, maternal mortality will go down substantially,” he told lawmakers.

Women’s health improvements

Recent government programmes targeted emergency prenatal care at government medical colleges, district hospitals, child- and maternal-care centres and upazila health complexes, Haq said.

“Now more and more women are coming to hospitals and health centres and taking advantage of various services offered by them,” gynaecologist Shahanare Chowdhury told Khabar.