Officials have promised to give financial and training incentives to midwives to help reduce the rate of maternal mortality in rural areas, but some believe education should come firs.
A woman holds her young baby in a Preaek Prolung village, Kratie province.
THE government has said it will introduce new incentives to midwives in 2009 with the aim of reducing the number of mothers, particularly those in rural areas, dying during childbirth.
Veng Thai, Phnom Penh municipal director of health, told the Post Monday that the government was not satisfied with the current rate of maternal mortality and would try to reduce it by offering financial and training incentives to midwives, ecouraging them to work in remote areas.
"The government now has a policy. If one midwife can help deliver a baby, they will receive 40,000 riels," he said. "In rural areas where we are lacking midwives, we will train people."
The director added that by 2015, the government aims to reduce the infant and maternal mortality rate by half. "If infant and maternal mortality rate is 40 percent [in a certain area], the government will try to reduce it by 20 percent."
According to Cambodia's latest Demographic and Health Survey, maternal mortality has decreased only slightly over the last decade, with 437 mothers per 100,000 live births dying in 2005 compared with 472 in 2000.
Veng Thai said the recent initiative was responding to NGOs concerned that the current rate would not allow Cambodia to reach its Millennium Development Goals for 2015.
But Ouk Vong Vathiny, director of the NGO Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), said she believed the new policy would not address the root causes of poor maternal health.
"Maternal mortality will continue to be a problem so long as the majority of mothers are using traditional midwives [non-schooled family or community members] to give birth, especially rural people," she said.
According to the UN Development Program, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel has remained low throughout the last decade in Cambodia - around 32 percent.
Education a priority
Ho Narin, director of Danak Smach commune's health centre in Kampong Speu province, said no government program to educate people on using health personnel instead of traditional midwives so far existed in his district.
"The Ministry of Health should contact relevant authorities to set up a program on educating women about safely giving birth," he said.