By Prashant K. Nanda, IANS
New Delhi : Nearly 20 percent of women dying in childbirth around the globe are Indians and the United Nations – on the eve of World Population Day – has called upon Indian men to become partners in improving maternal health.
"Despite many efforts, an unacceptable number of women continue to die or suffer disability in childbirth, for a variety of reasons. Women's health has not been a high priority because of deeply rooted gender inequities," said Nasim Tumkaya, India representative of the UN Population Fund.
"This year, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UN's safe motherhood initiative, the focus is on the role of men as partners in maternal health," Tumkaya told IANS in a letter.
According to data provided by UN agencies, over 400 women die in India per every 100,000 live births. Worldwide, over half a million women die each year of pregnancy-related causes, most of them in developing countries – and 100,000 of them in India.
Indian data back up the view that widespread early marriage is a factor in the high rate of maternal deaths in India.
According to the National Family Health Survey-III of India, at least 44 percent of girls aged between 20-24 years are married before they reach 18 years of age. And 16 percent of girls in the age group of 15 to 19 years were already mothers or expecting their first child.
On the occasion of the World Population Day, the UN says there's an urgent need to "involve men in sexual and reproductive health".
"If you want to save the lives of women in India, prepare men," Marzio Babille, head of the health section at the India office of Unicef, the UN children's agency, told IANS.
"Men have an extraordinary responsibility as husbands, as fathers, brothers, as community and political leaders. Their prompt action can save women," said Babille.
Urging men to take care of their daughters and wives, he said: "What kind of men are you, if you cannot take care your wife?"
The tragedy is that maternal deaths are mostly preventable.
Babille said a large number of women give birth at home and excessive bleeding after childbirth is the primary reason for the death of mothers.
According to the NFHS, six out of every 10 births take place at home and untrained people attend more than half of them.
"Unless men take women to hospitals within three hours of childbirth, then there is a very good chance that she will die. Unicef and the government of India are working in tandem to address the issue.
"We need good blood banks and other facilities at the district hospitals. The Janani Suraksha Yojana is really working well and hope some good result in future," Babille added. Under this scheme, the government pays Rs. 2000 to poor women to deliver a baby in hospital.