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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - High maternal mortality rate blamed on lack of outreach

High maternal mortality rate blamed on lack of outreach

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A newborn boy, Ravith, takes a deep breath 15 minutes after his birth at Pursat Provincial Hospital in late March.

EFFORTS to reduce the number of women in Cambodia who die during childbirth have been dogged by a lack of outreach on the part of public health officials as well as rural villagers' preference for traditional midwives, say parliamentarians.

"The rate in Cambodia is still higher than in other countries in the region because more women in remote areas don't have the information or skills to take care of themselves during pregnancy and right after childbirth," said CPP lawmaker Ho Naun, who chairs the National Assembly's public health committee and was one of three MPs who attended a regional conference on the issue in Bali, Indonesia, last week.

Along with Min Sean and Krouch Sam An, Ho Naun worked to devise a new national action plan for addressing maternal mortality. The MPs declined to elaborate on what the strategy entailed, saying they were scheduled to meet with UN Population Fund officials on Friday to formalise it.

The issue of maternal mortality has long confounded health officials and development partners. The 2005 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS), the source of the most recent reliable maternal health data, reported a nationwide rate of 472 deaths per 100,000 live births - the third-highest rate in the region behind Laos and East Timor.

At a March parliamentary forum on the Millennium Development Goals, UN resident coordinator Douglas Broderick said the UN was "especially concerned" that Cambodia would not meet the maternal health goal and encouraged MPs to take a more proactive approach.

That same month, Minister of Health Mam Bunheng, speaking at the launch of a five-year USAID-sponsored health programme, also spoke of the importance of reducing the maternal mortality rate.

He said a government goal to place midwives in all the Kingdom's 900 health centres, which it plans to accomplish by increasing midwife training and providing incentives to encourage work in rural areas, could make pregnancies much safer.

Te Kuyseang, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said Wednesday that the nation has more than enough midwives to place one in each centre.

He estimated that there are 3,000 trained midwives currently working, but said it might be difficult to convince rural women that they should enlist professional help.

"We have to change rural women's habits and encourage them to come give birth at the health centre, not at home," he said.

The Bali conference was sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development.

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