Female lawmakers from the region yesterday met in Phnom Penh to discuss maternal mortality at an assembly. The gathering in Cambodia, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region, was to share strategies to reach the UN Millennium Development Goal on maternal health by 2015. The gathering was attended by Philippine former first lady Imelda Marcos, widow of deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“In our present world, birth delivery is the most serious challenge in terms of health which women are facing,” Bun Rany, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife and president of the Cambodian Red Cross, said in a speech at the prime minister’s office.
Under the UN Millennium Development Goals, Cambodia is committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate to 250 deaths per 100,000 live births, said Ms Rany, who was appointed the UN’s national champion for women’s and children’s health last month. A 2005 survey put the rate at 472 deaths per 100,000 live births and in 2008, the UN estimated there were 290 deaths per 100,000 live births. A UN Development Program report released last year said Cambodia remained “off track” in its efforts to improve maternal health by 2015.
Wenny Kusuma, UN Women country director, said that lagging behind on meeting the target to reduce maternal mortality was a serious concern. “There’s a need on behalf of all stakeholders to continue the commitment to increasing efforts,” Ms Kusuma said on the sidelines of yesterday’s event.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said the goal was achievable, and the government introduced incentives for deliveries in health facilities while the number of births attended by skilled attendants had passed 70 percent. “We need more midwives, to upgrade skills of midwives, upgrade referral hospital’s obstetrics care… reduce financial barriers for health patients who are mothers,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who was not at the event, denied the government’s stated commitment to the issue was reflected in reality. “You can see that even though some hospitals now exist, they have no medicine or qualified midwives to deliver” babies, Mr Chhay said.