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Maternal deaths down: report

A NEW international report provides an estimate of the Cambodian maternal mortality rate that falls far below the government’s, but still places the Kingdom off track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters.

The report, which was released globally yesterday, estimates that there were 290 deaths per 100,000 live births in the Kingdom in 2008.

That figure, which draws from data produced by the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Bank, falls far below the Kingdom’s official figure of 461 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is based on 2008 census data.

Despite the relatively positive findings, the report concludes that, with a 58 percent reduction in the maternal mortality rate between 1990 and 2008, Cambodia is “making progress” but is still not on track to meet the MDG by 2015.

Using a 1990 baseline figure of 690 deaths per 100,000 live births, the report concludes that the number of maternal deaths in the Kingdom had dropped by an annual average of 4.8 percent.

Countries such as Cambodia that had a baseline of more than 100 deaths per 100,000 live births needed to have an annual decline in the maternal mortality rate of 5.5 percent or more to be classified as “on track” to meet the MDG.

Cambodia was listed as one of seven countries with high maternal mortality rates outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, which as a region accounted for nearly three-fifths of maternal deaths globally. Also listed were Afghanistan, Laos, Nepal, East Timor, Bangladesh and Haiti.

Sarah Knibbs, UNFPA Representative in Cambodia, said via email yesterday that the figures used in the report had referred to government data, but that they had been “adjusted to a level that makes them comparable globally”.

She added that the maternal mortality rate was one of the most difficult MDG indicators to measure reliably.

The new figures were met with some scepticism from other local experts.

Paou Linar, the head of Child and Maternal Health Care for the municipal Health Department, said yesterday that the rate cited in the report sounded far too low.

“Their statistic is unrealistic and unofficial,” he said, and cautioned that overly generous estimates of Cambodia’s success in reducing maternal deaths might harm future efforts to reduce the figure.

He said that although the Kingdom’s “present situation related to maternal mortality is not going smooth yet”, he remained optimistic that Cambodia could reach the maternal mortality MDG.

The government has “strategic plans” and is making a concerted effort, he said.

Knibbs noted that Cambodia last year set a national target to reduce the maternal mortality rate to 250 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015. This target was revised upward from an original target of 140.

Chan Theary, executive director of the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance, said via email yesterday that Cambodia faces special challenges, including a “shortage of qualified care providers, lack of skills among birth attendants, lack of drugs and equipment at facilities, and poor health-seeking behaviours of clients owing to sociocultural and economic factors”.

However, she said that she, too, remained optimistic that Cambodia could meet its revised MDG target.

“It is possible if collective efforts from all sectors (donors, civil societies and other sectors) are focused into it with the strong commitment and political will of the government,” she said.



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