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Africa Population Experts Seek to Make Motherhood Safer

Africa population experts meeting in Ghana say it is unacceptable that large numbers of women on the continent continue to die from complications of pregnancy and child birth, in an era of unprecedented wealth and technology. Efam Dovi filed this report from the African Population Commission's West Africa regional conference in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

Pregnancy and childbirth are life-changing events expected to bring joy to families. But for many women in sub-Saharan Africa, these events have become associated with death and misery.

World Health Organization and United Nations studies, indicate that one out of 16 women living in sub-Saharan Africa will die from pregnancy related causes, compared to developed countries where the figure is one out of 28,00.

About 200 delegates meeting in Ghana will be discussing and sharing experiences on the problem during the next three days.

Ghana National Population Council Cahir Virginia Ofosu-Ammah says it is important to make all components of reproductive-health services easily accessible.

She said, "So this meeting is suppose to look at what is happening in countries in West Africa, find out exactly what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, so that we do not repeat the mistakes, and then we hope that through the exchange of experiences we will really strengthen what we are doing and try to scale up the programs on safe motherhood."

Jacques Van Zuydam represents the African Population Commission, currently chaired by South Africa. He stressed the need to empower women to take control over decisions that affect their bodies.

"The countries that have made progress in the provision of reproductive health services as part of a comprehensive primary healthcare are the ones that have achieved lower maternal, infant and child mortality rates and lower fertility rates," he said.

U.N.F.P.A. Ghana's representative, Makane Kane, called for action in addressing the problem.

He said, "It is no longer the time for projects or pilots as we have enough evidence of what works and at what cost. The majority of countries have already successful but limited projects to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, it is time to go to scale up, to scale to ensure universal access to maternal health services in as many countries as possible."

Experts say 80 percent of maternal deaths are due to direct causes such as blood loss, unsafe abortion, obstructed labor and pregnancy induced hypertension.

Professor F.T. Sai, Ghana's presidential advisor on population and health, asks delegates to advocate for laws that protect women from unsafe abortion.

"My main concern is that if this [unsafe abortion] is killing so many women and the technologies are available why should we allow ideologies or religion or whatever, to make them die, which religion says my people should die?"

Nearly 50 percent of all maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are blamed on unsafe abortion.