‘It’s definitely not acceptable that mothers should die from what could be avoidable causes. It is actually primitive to allow mothers to die when they are supposed to be celebrating the bringing of life on earth. We can’t allow it’, said Dr Motsoaledi.
Maternal mortality is defined as deaths of women during pregnancy, child-birth or shortly after giving birth.
Motsoaledi told healthcare practitioners attending the summit that, ‘having just one woman dying has adverse effects’.
‘It brings poverty. It brings social disruption. It brings psychological disruption’, he said.
Three different committees working under the Department of Health have been investigating maternal, infant and child deaths. They present their findings and make recommendations every two years.
Dr Motsoaledi said he was ‘shocked’ when he was presented with the findings.
Professor Jack Moodley, chairperson of the maternal deaths committee, told the summit that:
‘We get about 140 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births, annually. KwaZulu Natal has the largest percentage of deaths and that’s because KZN is the most populous and it’s probably the most rural of provinces’.
‘We should provide training for all professionals working in maternity units on all practical obstetric and surgical skills ‘ and skills in anaesthesia. One of the things we are not very good at is post-natal care and we must, in fact, strengthen that’, said Prof. Moodley.
The second committee tasked with investigating the deaths of children under the age of five, also painted a gloomy picture.
Its Chairperson, Prof Neil McKerrow, said that, ‘there are huge inter-provincial variations in infant mortality, ranging from as low as 25 to as high as 71 young babies in the first year of life dying for every 1 000 babies born.
If you look at the under five mortality, exactly the same discrepancies across the provinces, ranging from lows in the low 30’s right up to mortality figures well over 100 per 1 000 children dying before they reach the age of five’, he said.
The Chairperson of the third committee focusing on infant deaths, Prof. Sthembiso Velaphi, said, ‘46% of neonatal deaths are due to prematurity and 29% are due to asphyxia’.
Asphyxia is a condition resulting from the short supply of oxygen to the body that arises from being unable to breathe normally and may lead to suffocation.
Prof Velaphi pointed out that something can be done to avoid these deaths.
‘We can focus our attention in giving the best care in looking after premature babies and managing babies with asphyxia or preventing asphyxia’.
He emphasised that ‘two thousand deaths could be prevented every year’.
Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said that government has good policies, but questioned the challenge in implementation of the programmes.
‘Many countries that are poorer than us have much better health outcomes. I want to know: What are the bottle-necks to implementing our policies?’, he asked.