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Today, July 12th, marks six months since the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti earlier this year, killing more than 200,000 people.  An article, published today on Relief Web, outlines several of the components of the national health plan of the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (with support from UNFPA) that was developed after the earthquake. The plan includes reviving the National School of Nurses and Midwives to reestablish midwifery training programs, working with UNICEF to set up clinics to provide skilled reproductive health services and basic emergency newborn care, supporting the Haitian Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to improve referral systems for maternal and neonatal services, and a variety of other activities to reduce morbidity and mortality among Haiti’s most vulnerable populations.

Relief Web

Excerpt from the article:

“…Life in the temporary camps poses a number of health challenges, especially for women and girls. Living in tight, often insecure quarters with minimal access to sanitation can expose women and girls to sexual violence and other dangers.

Over the past months, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has provided maternal health supplies, including birthing kits to serve a population of 2 million people, as well as 22,000 hygiene kits aimed at the female population living in temporary camps, along with nearly 1,000 tents, 2000 mattresses and 17,000 solar lamps…”

Click here for the full story.

For information on UNFPA’s work in Haiti, click here.

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On April 13th 2010, the New York Times published an article,  Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe, about the recent findings published in the Lancet that suggest a dramatic reduction in global maternal mortality. Since then, the paper has published a series of Letters to the Editor. These letters come  from leaders of organizations working on reproductive and maternal health and from health professionals working on maternal health on the ground in countries where maternal mortality continues to be a major problem.

The New York Times

A variety of opinions and sentiments are expressed in these letters that certainly add depth to the initial story published in the Times. Two themes pound through the letters: a new sense of hope that improvements in maternal health are possible and a sense of urgency that this battle has not yet been won–that now, more than ever, is the time for the maternal health community to stick together (despite squabbles among advocates over whether or not the Lancet should have published the paper when they did) and engage in concerted efforts (that include emergency obstetric care, HIV services, and expanded access to family planning) to achieve MDG5.

A careful look at these letters will stimulate a much more robust understanding of the myriad of factors contibuting to global maternal mortality—as well as the potential implications of the findings of the Lancet paper and necessary next steps towards achieving MDG5.

Some authors express cautious excitment that investments are (or might be depending on the author) paying off while simultaneously declaring that it is not yet time to celebrate; far too many women are still dying of pregnancy-related causes!  Joanne Jorissen Chiwaula, director of the African Mothers Health Initiative describes her frustration with Chris Murray (one of the authors of the Lancet paper) for downplaying the importance of emergency obstetric care services in favor of playing up the importance of HIV services, when a comprehensive approach is really what is needed. Mary Robinson, president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, calls attention to the relationship between maternal health and discimination against women, lack of reproductive choices for women, child marriage, sexual violence, unsafe abortions and inability to own property. She emphasizes the importance of considering maternal health in the context of human rights—and also points out the need to focus on strengthening entire health systems. 

Take a look at a group of Letters to the Editor published on April 18th, and more on April 19th.

For readers comments on the initial story in the Times, click here.

And for Nicholas Kristof’s take on the new maternal mortality estimates, click here.

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The Reproductive Health Response in Crises Consortium applauds current relief efforts in Haiti while calling on humanitarian actors to provide lifesaving reproductive health services for women displaced by the earthquake.

The RHRC Consortium

The RHRC Consortium calls on humanitarian actors to meet the needs of women and girls—including the 63,000  pregnant women in Port au Prince.  (Other organizations have put the estimate lower at 37,000.) The RHRC estimates that 7,000 will deliver in the coming month.

The statement includes calls to action on issues of safe delivery,  sexual violence and exploitation, HIV/AIDS, and family planning.

Click here to read their full statement.

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