Though the nation can boast a variety of economic advantages in comparison with the rest of the sub-Saharan, South Africa has a huge problem dealing with the health of expectant mothers, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.
South Africa’s maternal mortality ratio quadrupled just in 10 years alone (between 1998 and 2007), the report, entitled “’Stop Making Excuses’: Accountability for Maternal Health Care in South Africa,” states, bringing the total to about 4,500 deaths per year (or from 150 to 625 deaths per 100,000 live births).
This is particularly troubling since many other nations on the continent, with far fewer resources, are improving their maternal mortality rates. South Africa spends $748 on health per citizen yearly; care for expectant mothers is free; more than 85 percent of mothers give birth in hospitals and clinics, and abortion is legal, the Associated Press reports. Still, some major factors, which include poor health care (including a lack of sanitation at facilities), lack of accountability, bad attitudes from hospital workers, and administrative and management problems have led to the nation’s alarming rates. HIV, which has infected about 5.7 million South Africans, has played a role in the surge of maternal deaths.
“The government admits that it has a big problem on its hands and wants to do better,” Agnes Odhiambo, the continent’s women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said in the report. “But for all South Africa’s good intentions, policies and strategies on paper won’t save women’s lives without strong accountability systems to make sure policies are carried out.”
In addition to the deaths, the poor treatment and verbal harassment of the pregnant women by medical workers was also highlighted in the report.
One woman interviewed by the HRW said a nurse accused her of lying about being in labor and told her to go to a waiting room, likely leading to her baby being stillborn. The report summarizes other women's complaints of abuses:
They said that when they sought care for pregnancy, nurses taunted them about enjoying sex or berated them for getting pregnant knowing they were HIV positive, or told them they did not deserve care because they were migrants. Others said nurses ridiculed women when they said they were having labor pains or pleaded for assistance. Some said hospital staff shouted at them for “messing up” when they bled on the floor and ordered them to clean up the blood.
The group is calling on local and national government officials to step in and speak out against abuse of pregnant women and to ensure that women are given safe health care.
“The point of the complaint system is to show that South Africa cares enough about women’s lives to fix the problems,” Odhiambo said. “When accountability and oversight mechanisms don’t function, South Africa is ignoring the insights of the people who know best what’s wrong with maternal health care: the maternity patients themselves.”
(Photo: Antoine De Ras/Landov)