05 Feb India takes step forward in tackling maternal health
Delhi’s high court has ordered the capital’s government to build shelters for destitute pregnant women so they can receive care when giving birth. It is treating maternal mortality as a human rights violation.
In January, Shanti Devi, a woman living below the poverty line, died after giving birth to a premature baby. She had not eaten for three days before her delivery. A few months later, Fatima, 24, a destitute woman who suffered from epilepsy, was forced to give birth under a tree on a crowded street in New Delhi. Her mother took her to a local government maternity home but they were turned away. Laxmi, another destitute, homeless woman gave birth and died on the streets of India’s capital city in July. She was helped by another homeless woman. For four days Laxmi lay on the streets with her new born baby, then died of septicemia.
The experiences of Laxmi, Shanti and Fatima are not uncommon in India, where one woman dies every five minutes from preventable, pregnancy-related causes. These three women and their plight have exposed the huge gaps in India’s tottering public health system that offers little or no emergency obstetric care, and continued care in the post-partum period for underprivileged women. But stories such as these have initiated a new era in maternal health activism.