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Summit to focus on maternal mortality

Experts study methods to reach elusive target

CAMBODIAN officials are in Washington this week for a major global conference on maternal health – an issue that has confounded experts struggling to reduce the number of women who die giving birth in the Kingdom.

A delegation including Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi is scheduled to attend the conference, which is being hosted by the advocacy organisation Women Deliver.

“All research shows that it pays off to invest in women,” Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, said in a press release. “But they need to be healthy and alive to thrive.”

One of the key messages organisers will push at the conference is that reducing maternal mortality is achievable, as long as the proper investments are in place.

A 2009 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a US-based health research organisation, estimated it would cost an extra US$12 billion worldwide this year to meet existing needs for family planning and maternal care – roughly double what is currently spent.

Authorities here have faced major challenges in reducing the maternal mortality ratio (MMR), part of a key Millennium Development Goal, or MDG.
The Kingdom’s official MMR figure stands at 461 deaths for every 100,000 live births, still far short of the target of 140 the country is supposed to reach by 2015.

New numbers
This week’s conference will also involve discussions of a study released in April that surprised health experts working to reduce the MMR.

The study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet, used new methodology to suggest that there has actually been a “dramatic” drop in the rate of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth, both worldwide and in Cambodia.

The research pegged Cambodia’s MMR at around 266 deaths for every 100,000 live births, a figure that was met with some scepticism from health experts here.

And unlike the official census-based MMR used by the government, the study suggested that Cambodia’s MMR is on a downward trend.

Christopher Murray, the study’s co-author and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said he believes refined research methods and more thorough data have contributed to the differing figures.

“The main reason our estimates differ from official government estimates, both in Cambodia and elsewhere, is that we are using a broader range of data, not just data that comes from the government,” Murray wrote in an email response to questions.

Murray, who will be speaking at the Women Deliver conference this week, said the study also uses re-estimated adult mortality figures.

Even though the study suggests that the MMR has actually improved in Cambodia, the country remains perilously close to missing its overall maternal mortality reduction goal, he said.

“For Cambodia to achieve the MDG goals for maternal and child mortality, it would have to greatly accelerate its rate of decline in both areas,” he said. “Very few countries have been able to achieve this type of acceleration.”



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