Gender inequality, poverty and poor infrastructure perpetuate high maternal mortality rates in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, says neonatal, infant and maternal health advocate Linette Vassell.
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During a presentation in the University of the West Indies School of Nursing (UWISON), Vassell recounted the story of a mother who went into premature labour and died in 2017 while awaiting police transport.
“Delay in seeking appropriate medical help for obstetric emergencies due to costs, poor education, gender inequality, poor access to information; delay in reaching an appropriate medical facility due to distance, poor infrastructure, transport challenges; delay in receiving adequate care due to staff shortage, unavailability of adequate facilities and supplies,” Vassel said, are some the main factors contributing to high maternal mortality rates.
Health advocates were up in arms after Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) closed its free, 24-hour maternity hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, last month.
The hospital doors were locked shut three months before its scheduled closure. It had been one of two facilities opened in 2010 following the deadly earthquake.
Michelle Chouinard, MSF’s head of mission, said: "It was a temporary structure that has a lifespan that already has been surpassed, and requires significant investments to turn it into a permanent, more long-term structure. It’s not MSF’s role to remain indefinitely."
Several reports show the Caribbean island maintains the highest death rate of women due to childbirth and complicated pregnancies than any other country in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the most recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, there are 359 deaths to every 100,000 pregnancies. The MSF hospital admitted roughly 500 patients a day in 2017.
Tara Livesay, director of the Heartline Maternity Center in Port-au-Prince, told the Journal Star: "The maternal health statistics for the country are conservative, in my opinion. It is our experience that one in four women will become pre-eclamptic before her baby is born.
"It is our experience that a little more than half of those women will be able to deliver vaginally but the other half will likely need a surgeon and an anesthesiologist and an operating room… there is not a guarantee of availability (of maternal health care) for any woman in this city."