Friday, September 25, 2009

Maternal death rate in Sierra Leone is a "Human Rights Emergency"

As world leaders meet at the United Nations in New York to discuss increased funding for healthcare in developing countries, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan has launched a campaign to reduce maternal deaths in Sierra Leone.

The report Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone uses graphic and personal testimonials to show how women and girls are often unable access lifesaving treatment because they are too poor to pay for it.

In Sierra Leone, one in eight women risk dying during pregnancy or childbirth. This is one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Thousands of women bleed to death after giving birth. Most die in their homes. Some die on the way to hospital; in taxis, on motorbikes or on foot. In Sierra Leone, less than half of deliveries are attended by a skilled birth attendant and less than one in five are carried out in health facilities. "These grim statistics reveal that maternal deaths are a human rights emergency in Sierra Leone," said Irene Khan, launching the report in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown. "Women and girls are dying in their thousands because they are routinely denied their right to life and health, in spite of promises from the government to provide free healthcare to all pregnant women." At the United Nations General Assembly meeting on 23 September, access to healthcare in the developing world will be high on the agenda.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce a series of new finance packages devoted to improving healthcare in the developing world with particular focus on infant and maternal health. Sierra Leone is expected to be among the recipients of the fund. "Additional money is desperately needed in Sierra Leone but will not reach women and children in remote areas who are at greatest risk," said Irene Khan. "The lives of women and girls will only be saved when the health system is properly managed and the government is held to account. "Money alone will not solve the problem. In Sierra Leone severe discrimination and the low social status of women underlies the terrible tragedy of maternal deaths. This is a country where girls are forced into early marriage, excluded from schools and face sexual violence. Women's health needs are given a low priority by their own families, community leaders and their government."

Irene Khan's visit to Sierra Leone marks the start of Amnesty International's action against maternal mortality in the country. A "campaign caravan" will tour Sierra Leone over the coming weeks, providing information and fuelling debate on the issue of maternal health.

Amnesty International believes poverty is a human rights issue. This year, it launched a global campaign called Demand Dignity, which calls for an end to the human rights violations that drive and deepen poverty. The Demand Dignity campaign mobilises people across the world to demand that governments and corporations listen to the voices of those living in poverty and respect their rights.

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