Maternal health in eastern Burma has improved considerably, a report released by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health earlier this month has indicated. The positive trend is a result of a community-based maternal health programme called MOM (Mobile Obstetrics Medics) project.
Owing to internal displacement, forced labour and lack of medical resources, Burmese women face a number of pre- as well as post-natal health complications. Hypertensive disorders, haemorrhage and septic abortions remain major causes of maternal death in the country.
The MOM project has brought about improvement in the prevailing conditions of maternal health in eastern Burma. The project trained 200-odd traditional birth attendants from four ethnic minorities — Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon — over a three-year period and set up 11 clinics in the eastern region of the country. As per the survey conducted by the programme, almost 72 percent of the women in the specified area received ante-natal care as opposed to the 39 percent before the intervention.
The Reproductive and Child Health Programme manager of the Burma Medical Association (BMA), Eh May Htoo told DVB that; “Before initiation of the project we faced many cases of maternal deaths and still-born babies. This was mainly because of unskilled traditional birth attendants who weren’t medically equipped for safe delivery methods. Though we have experienced complications with respect to haemorrhage and septic abortions after the introduction of the project, we haven’t encountered any maternal deaths.”
Educating women to seek maternal care was also part of the programme. Volunteers spent time explaining the importance of family planning to women in these areas resulting in greater use of contraception. “We did face certain challenges while working on the field. Language was one of the problems because of the different ethnic languages involved. Another challenge was providing enough medicines for the clinics. On the positive side, more women now know about the services available and more and more of them go to hospitals now,” Eh May Htoo said.
Also, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2010 report, Burma’s under-5 mortality rate is almost double that of the global average. The reason for this, May Htoo said, is the lack of education among mothers about the common diseases infecting their children. The Communicable Disease Control Programme (CDCP) is working towards solving this issue. Children are given nutritional supplements like vitamin A tablets and mothers receive tutorials in caring for their child’s health and nutritional needs.