The scandal of maternal and child mortality

Babette Francis - News Weekly, 2 February 2013

Of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals, number 5 is to improve maternal health. It specifies the following: “Target 5A: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio. Target 5B: Achieve by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.”

If “reproductive health” was interpreted literally, these two targets would not be incompatible; but in UN-speak “reproductive health” means contraception, sterilisation and legalising of abortion, i.e., “maternal health” is interpreted as the right of pregnant women to kill their unborn babies.

Speaking in October 2012 at the 9th Ethics Conference, Strathmore University, Nairobi, Dr Robert Walley, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of St Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, and director of MaterCare International, challenged the recent reproductive health initiatives of the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda. He said they were irrelevant to the causes of maternal mortality in the world, according to statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Speaking on the topic of “Mothers matter, but who cares?”, he said the vast majority of maternal deaths are easily preventable and 91 per cent occur in the last three months of pregnancy (The Lancet, 2009). Most of these mothers die because they had no access to skilled routine and emergency care.

Dr Walley described how often mothers die alone, in agony and exhausted. The maternal mortality rate, which is the number of mothers dying in pregnancy each year in the developed world, is one in 15,000, whereas in the developing world it is one in 15.

This is one of the scandals of modern medicine. Nobody is asking, “What happens to mothers?” He noted the lack of maternal care in refugee camps. In his own personal professional experience he has never witnessed a maternal death.

Dr Whalley said that mothers are deemed politically unimportant as they have no voice. A lot of violence is done against women and children, often through a lack of communication about the truth in relation to the side-effects of contraceptives and abortion. One of the first rights of women is the right to know the truth. Instead, he said, “Mothers are being ground to the dust.”

He presented the Charter of Maternal Rights, based on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and the dignity of women, and said, “We need a Marshall plan to help mothers and so do something about the most neglected of the millennium goals.”

Untimely deaths
He accused “women’s groups” of doing nothing about these problems. They talk of women, women, women, he observed, but say nothing of mothers, mothers, mothers. He said: “We need to restore the dignity of mothers.”

Meanwhile, Rebecca Oas, PhD, a fellow of Human Life International and associate director of research at the US-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), wrote that a just-released global study demonstrates that the diseases causing most of the world’s untimely deaths and illness, especially among children, are not receiving proportionate attention within international policy-making institutions (C-FAM Friday Fax, January 11, 2013).

According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD 2010), published in The Lancet (December 15, 2012), over 1.4 million people died from diarrhoea in 2010. Despite a 41.9 per cent drop from 1990 levels, diarrhoea remains a leading cause of death, particularly for children. Yet diarrhoea does not receive the same attention by the UN as more politically-correct issues such as deaths from abortion.

The GBD 2010 reported 37,100 deaths from abortion complications, yet advocacy groups promoting access to “safe” abortion are prominent and influential within the UN system and have gained traction by linking abortion to maternal mortality. Abortion advocates attempted to prevent The Lancet publishing a previous report by GBD author Christopher Murray, which revealed that the WHO was incorrectly claiming that the number of global maternal deaths was almost twice the actual rate. This of course had important implications for many United Nations initiatives that relied on the WHO’s erroneous numbers, and also used them as justification for their continued funding. The new GBD 2010 reports a further reduction in maternal mortality to 254,700 deaths per year — not a trivial number, but more than five times fewer than those killed by diarrhoea.

Dr Murray, who worked at WHO before starting the GBD project, has taken issue with other statistics generated by his former employer. In February, he and his colleagues reported that malaria caused 1.24 million deaths in 2010, many of them children. This is twice the WHO estimate for the same year.

GBD 2010 was conducted by independent researchers rather than researchers connected to a policy-making institution. Introducing the study, Lancet editor Richard Horton pointed out that “the success of the GBD, then and now, is that it provides a level playing-field to assess independently (and dispassionately) the health priorities that face countries”.

According to a UN source, Dr Murray became “persona non grata” within some parts of the UN system when he left the WHO to form a competitor organisation aimed at challenging WHO data and UN health policy priorities.

Babette Francis is co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., a Christian, pro-family, pro-life NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC).