Congo Boasts Huge Drop in Maternal Mortality Rates

A free medical procedure and other medical revolutions in the Republic of Congo have greatly improved local maternal mortality rates.

Posted: 09/18/2013 12:00 PM EDT

Over the past decade, the Republic of the Congo has emerged as one of few nations worldwide with a drastically improved maternal mortality rate.

At more than a 50 percent decline, the reduced number of women dying in child birth experienced its most steep drop in the past two years after a presidential decree in 2011 made Caesarean sections a free public health service.

Such an improvement is considered rare in Africa, particularly the sub-Saharan region which is home to 56 percent of women worldwide who die in childbirth. Assuming this trend continues, Congo will be on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals' global objective of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality.

"The government is actually putting the resources and actions where they're supposed to be," David Lawson, the country director for the United Nations Population Fund, told Al-Jazeera. "I have no doubt that the situation will continue to improve."

As Al-Jazeera reports:

The affordability of the procedure has done what doctors hoped it would: The number of Caesareans is going up around the country.

[Dr. Léon Hervé Iloki, a practicing gynecologist and director of the national Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality,] says the national average should be about 15 percent, roughly the dividing line set by the World Health Organization between over- and under-use of the procedure.

That fine line is a preoccupation in public health: In the United States, where roughly one-third of births are C-sections, there's widespread concern, even from the WHO, about the procedure's overuse.

In Africa, on the other hand, women who need C-sections often can't get them: A recent WHO survey found that only 2 to 5 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa birthed by Caesarean, low rates the study attributed to lack of access, especially among the poor.

Read the full story here.

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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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