Falling short of the mark on maternal health in Pakistan

January 31, 2014 by Andrea Lauder, University of Alberta

The clock is ticking on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals as the 2015 deadline approaches. For University of Alberta researcher Zubia Mumtaz, that raises a lot of questions about her area of research—maternal health—and how it will be addressed.

There are eight Millennium Development Goals, which include reducing poverty and the incidence of HIV/AIDS, and ensuring universal primary education. According to Mumtaz, assistant professor in the U of A's School of Public Health, the focus is beginning to shift to what will become of the goals after 2015.

"What has emerged from the data on these goals is that some countries have been successful at reducing maternal mortality, but the countries with the highest burden have been the least successful," says Mumtaz.

In her latest research, published recently in The Lancet, Mumtaz focused on Punjab, Pakistan, and the status of directly related to the fifth development goal, which calls for improving maternal health and reducing by three-quarters the maternal mortality rate between 1990 and 2015. Mumtaz notes that rates have improved for the upper and middle classes in Pakistan, but have barely moved in the lowest classes of society.

"If you don't address the poorer populations, the MDGs cannot be met," says Mumtaz. She has found through her research that there is not a lack of knowledge among poor women regarding services for maternal health. "The extremely poor in Pakistan are being excluded from health services completely or, when they access services, they're treated badly because they're not valued by society as a whole."

When services are offered, too often it's only the rich that end up using them. There are also other social, political, cultural and economic factors that continue to keep poor women marginalized in society.

"The argument of my paper is that if we want to really start making an impact, we need to start including the poorest people in our data," states Mumtaz, noting that poor people make up 25 per cent of Pakistan's overall population.

"Advocating on behalf of these poor people is an uphill battle," says Mumtaz. "Everyone likes hearing about the poor, but when you get into the details about exactly who these people are and what their burdens are, you begin to make people uncomfortable. It is a large elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about."

Mumtaz doesn't mind making people uncomfortable with her research. She especially hopes that she makes policy-makers uncomfortable, so they can address the attitudes and discourse about how poor people are dealt with.

Beyond 2015, the worry for Mumtaz is that maternal health may fall off the global agenda, but thanks to other researchers addressing the issue of poverty through education and labour markets, there is pressure to keep things like maternal health and poverty on people's radar.

And though the status of maternal health for poor women in Pakistan still lags, Mumtaz is confident that attitudes and treatment of the poor can change. As researchers and policy-makers continue to work together to include in data reporting, they can capture a more accurate picture and propose more specific interventions.

Next, Mumtaz plans to look at interventions that have been successful with poorer populations in smaller settings, and how they can be adopted at broader levels.

"Women have been doing these interventions for themselves, so now I'm interested in how we as researchers and policy-makers can support them."

Explore further: Saving women during childbirth: Maternal health advocates push for new global goals

More information: "Addressing invisibility, inferiority, and powerlessness to achieve gains in maternal health for ultra-poor women." Dr Zubia Mumtaz PhD,Sarah Salway PhD,Afshan Bhatti MSc,Prof Lynn McIntyre FRCPC. The Lancet - 2 October 2013. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61646-3

Related Stories

Saving women during childbirth: Maternal health advocates push for new global goals

March 8, 2013
Throughout history, more women have died in childbirth than men have died in battle, Mahmoud Fathalla, founder of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, told attendees at the recent Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, ...

Action needed with Burma maternal, child health

December 2, 2013
As a regional neighbour to Myanmar, the Commonwealth Government has recognised Australia has a responsibility – and the capacity – to help alleviate poverty in the developing nation. Australia is also able to support ...

Closing mental-illness gap in Vietnam

January 29, 2014
A Simon Fraser University researcher is going to Vietnam to study how to address the shortage of accessible and adequate services for people with mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

World Bank sets $700 mn for women's, children's health

September 23, 2013
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced Monday that at least $700 million would be made available over the next two years for women's and children's health needs in poor countries.

Equitable approach the best way to rapidly increase overall maternal and child health coverage

September 19, 2012
The first ever global study to examine how changes in health inequality are related to overall coverage of maternal and child health interventions has shown that the countries making the most rapid progress in increasing ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.