The lack of healthcare facilities in some parts of Laos is one of the reasons for the high maternal mortality rate, health chiefs say.

Although Laos has made significant progress in terms of the maternal mortality ratio since 1990, lowering the rate of maternal deaths to 185 per 100,000 live births in 2017, this figure is well below those of most other ASEAN countries.

For example, in 2017, the maternal mortality rate in Thailand was 37 deaths per 100,000 live births, in Vietnam it was 59 deaths per 100,000 live births, and in Cambodia it was 160 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The figures were cited by a Party Committee member of the National Health Insurance Office, Ministry of Health, Aphone Visathep, on May 6 at an event to mark International Day of Midwives and celebrate the launch of the Lao Association of Midwives.

This year’s International Day of Midwives takes the theme: “100 Years of Progress”. The event also highlighted the progress made in Lao midwifery over the past 20 years.

“The deaths of mothers during childbirth is a great loss in any society, and is also a sign of the inability of society to protect pregnant women,” Aphone said.

“But maternal deaths are preventable, and we can address them by strengthening maternal care and community engagement to ensure safe motherhood. In addition, investment in midwives is cost-effective and critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.

The current midwifery programme has contributed tremendously to safe pregnancy, childbirth, and family planning in Laos, she added.

Lao Association of Midwives president Sengmany Khambounheuang confirmed that the maternal mortality rate in Laos was high compared to other countries.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to UNFPA and other partners for providing technical and financial support to midwifery in Laos,” she said.

UNFPA Representative to Laos, Mariam A Khan, congratulated the government on its efforts and the progress made in the midwifery programme.

“We must invest in midwives by increasing the number of trained and deployed midwives to provide quality health services to mothers and babies across the country,” she said.

The Lao government recognises the role of midwives in reducing maternal mortality, as demonstrated through its efforts to improve midwifery programmes, she added.

As a result, a number of policies, strategies and curriculums have been developed and implemented, and midwifery has been integrated into the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Strategy and Action Plan for 2016-2025.

The Lao Association of Midwives is a professional association of volunteers who are devoted to improving the health of Lao citizens by fostering access to midwifery education, influencing health policy, developing midwifery networks, and strengthening midwifery leadership. The association currently has 276 members across the country.