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Studies question UN efforts to save mothers

Updated June 30, 2014
File photo
File photo

LONDON: In the past decade, billions of dollars have been spent in trying to save the lives of mothers in developing countries using strategies — usually inexpensive drugs — deemed essential by the UN health agency. Yet two large analyses of maternal health programmes — including one conducted by the UN itself — report that the efforts appeared almost useless, raising troubling questions about why all that money was spent.

While critics are calling for the pricey global initiatives to be significantly overhauled, the programmes are still being implemented despite little proof they work.

The practices mainly involve things like ensuring that pregnant women get cheap drugs such as magnesium sulphate to treat labour complications or pre-emptive antibiotics for those getting a caesarean section. Even public health officials acknowledge they were taken aback by the studies.

“Nobody could have been more surprised than I was when we got the results,” said Dr Omrana Pasha of Aga Khan University in Pakistan, who led a study of maternal health interventions in six countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

According to the research papers, including one done in 30 countries that tracked more than 300,000 women, scientists found no link between the supposedly life-saving interventions and the death rates of women giving birth. Areas that used the interventions didn’t have better survival rates for mothers than areas that didn’t.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2014