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Burkina Faso Government Lifts Financial Barriers on Obstetric Care


A woman writes on a blackboard as others sit during a literacy class held at the garbage dump of Ougadougou, 12 Oct 2009

A woman writes on a blackboard as others sit during a literacy class held at the garbage dump of Ougadougou, 12 Oct 2009

Burkinabé President Blaise Compaoré has committed to making emergency obstetric care and access to family planning free in Burkina Faso, as part of a strategy to fight maternal mortality in the country.

As many as six women die every day in the West African country Burkina Faso as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, and human rights group, Amnesty International, says it is the country's poor, rural women whose lives are most in danger.

Amnesty International issued a report last month that pointed to poverty and shortages of supplies and trained medical staff as well as corruption and gender discrimination as the underlying causes for high rates of maternal death in Burkina Faso.

A 2005 law gives Burkinabé women the right to choose how many children they will have and when they will have them, and government subsidies introduced in 2006 sharply reduced the cost of childbirth.

But Amnesty International found that many women do not know about their right to family planning and that poorly paid medical personnel continue to ask for informal payments with impunity. Amnesty talked with families who had been forced to buy bleach to clean up birthing rooms or pay for ambulance services that should have been free.

Leaving Friday's meeting with Burkinabé officials, Amnesty's interim secretary-general, Claudio Cordone, said the government's commitment to free emergency obstetric care is a step in the right direction. Not only will it make care more accessible, he said, it will also simplify the process.

"If you have a policy that relies on identify (identifying) who is poor and who isn't in order to be exempted from costs, that's an opportunity for confusion and it facilitates corruption," he said. "If there is absolute clarity that women are not supposed to pay for anything from ambulances to treatment to cesareans or any of the other care that they need, then there is no possibility of misunderstanding."

The Burkinabé government also committed Friday to lifting financial barriers to family planning services, which Amnesty International says can save lives by preventing unwanted pregnancies, pregnancies that are too close together and unsafe, illegal abortions.

Maternal death is a preventable tragedy, Amnesty says, that can result from a woman's lack of control over her own sexual health. Financial barriers are not the only obstacles.

Many Burkinabé women are married by the time they are 19, and girls continue to be subjected to early, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Amnesty's Cordone said tackling the low status of women in Burkina Faso is at the heart of saving women's lives.

"From abortion to female genital mutilation to early marriages to a whole set of things that disempower women, that make them dependent on the decisions of their husbands or the community, it is a large issue. That's why we also insisted on placing the discussions about health care and obstetric care in the context of dealing with the various forms of discrimination that women suffer," he said.

Amnesty International has also encouraged international donors to continue their support of the Burkinabé government in ensuring the availability and accessibility of adequate reproductive care for women in Burkina Faso.

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