Ministry of Health says it plans to distribute twice as many iron
tablets to pregnant women throughout the Kingdom this year in fight
against rising maternal mortality rate.
A pregnant woman walks out of a Phnom Penh clinic following a checkup on Wednesday.
IN an effort to combat high maternal mortality, the Ministry of Health plans to distribute free iron tablets to between 85 percent and 90 percent of pregnant women in 2009.
The ministry will launch a new advertising campaign and double the number of iron tablets it imports from Denmark in an attempt to reach this goal, said Ou Kevanna, manager of the National Nutrition Program at the National Maternal and Child Health Centre.
Last year, the ministry imported 30 million iron tablets from Denmark and distributed free tablets to an estimated 65 percent of pregnant women, Ou Kevanna said. This year, the ministry will import 60 million tablets from Denmark as part of the initiative, which will be carried out in conjunction with Unicef.
"This is not a new government program, but this year we plan to broadcast the campaign much more than before because we want to promote a greater understanding amongst women of the importance of iron tablets," Ou Kevanna said.
He said the increase in the number of mothers dying during childbirth in the Kingdom prompted officials to try to provide more iron tablets.
Citing data compiled by the Ministry of Planning, Ou Kevanna said there were 473 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005, the last year for which data is available. A 2005 Unicef briefing note on maternal health in Cambodia reports that there has been "no recorded reduction in maternal deaths since 2000".
if mothers don't take iron vitamins, their babies will be weak and pale.
Ou Kevanna also cited a Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey that found 57 percent of pregnant women in 2005 looked pale on account of an iron deficiency.
Both of these statistics, he said, could be improved with the wider distribution of free iron tablets.
Maternal mortality goal
Ou Kevanna said the plan to distribute more free iron tablets was also designed with an eye towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goal pertaining to maternal mortality. In order to comply with the goal, he said, Cambodia must reach a rate of 140 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.
Veng Thai, director of the Municipal Health Department, said iron tablets are very important for pregnant woman because they can help them produce more blood cells, which are necessary if a lot of blood is lost during delivery. The vitamin also helps ensure that women have a sufficient amount of oxygen in their bodies, he said.
The pills can also influence the health of their unborn children.
"If mothers don't take the iron vitamins, their babies will be weak and pale and will have difficulty growing," he said. "The women have to take 90 tablets over a span of three months."
Meas Sreytey, 25, who is six months' pregnant, said she went to get iron tablets from a doctor as soon as she found out she was pregnant.
"I took the iron tablets in the second month because the doctor told me about the importance of iron during pregnancy," she said. "I have already taken 90 tablets during my pregnancy. It makes me stronger and I don't look pale, even though I work hard."
She added: "It is also good for my baby. When I went for a checkup with the doctor, they said my daughter is strong and in good health."
Ou Kevanna said consumption of the tablets combined with a diet rich in meat and dark green vegetables - which contain high concentrations of iron - could ensure a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery.
Meas Sreytey said she recognised the need to mix the tablets with a healthy diet.
"We not only need to take iron vitamins, we also need to eat well and take care of ourselves," she said. "This will ensure that our children have enough physical strength and will also help the mother to avoid health risks during delivery."
Im Sithe, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, said the ministry would continue to cooperate with the Ministry of Health on issues relating to the health of pregnant women.