A WORLD Health Organisation official told a regional conference this week that reducing maternal mortality rates remained one of the greatest health challenges in the Western Pacific region, but praised Cambodia for improving its surveillance of maternal deaths, according to a statement issued by the WHO yesterday.
Speaking on Monday at the meeting of the regional committee for the Western Pacific, held in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO regional Director for the Western Pacific, reportedly said the region as a whole was on track to meet all health-related Millennium Development Goals, with the exception of the maternal mortality goal.
“I find it shameful that women are still dying in childbirth,” he is quoted as saying. “As we all know, most of these deaths are preventable.”
In February, Health Minister Mam Bunheng announced plans to set up a central office in Phnom Penh to track the number of women who die during pregnancy nationwide.
Dr Susan Jack, a medical officer specialising in maternal and child health at the WHO in Cambodia, said via email yesterday that the Health Ministry had opened a new Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Room in February “in order to enable improved reporting of maternal deaths”.
“This has been functioning since then and is already seeing an increase in the number of recorded deaths compared to previous years,” she said.
“In the coming months a mass media campaign will be launched with a new free hotline number to enable anyone to be able to report a maternal death. Those will then be followed up and information gathered in order to improve efforts to reduce maternal deaths.”
Not all relevant government bodies, however, appear to have been informed of efforts to improve maternal health surveillance.
Paou Linar, the head of Child and Maternal Health Care for the municipal Health Department, said yesterday that he did not know if the government had established a national centre to collate information about maternal deaths.
He also said he could not provide figures for the number of maternal mortalities in Phnom Penh. “The Ministry off Health never did separate statistics for the municipality or the provinces,” he said.
The most recent maternal mortality rate estimate he was aware of, he said, came from the 2008 census, which recorded 461 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Health Minister Mam Bun Heng could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Sharon Wilkinson, country director for Care International in Cambodia, said national statistics were useful in enabling officials to identify and target problem areas, but noted that it was also important for information to be collected and disseminated at the district level.
There, she said, it would be more likely to inspire action.
“A woman dying in labour after many days is the equivalent of being tortured to death,” she said. “Statistics don’t ever put that human face on the reality.”