Khabar South Asia reported yesterday that maternal mortality has declined 40 percent in Bangladesh in the past decade. It reports: “According to official statistics, 574 out of 100,000 women died in 1990 during childbirth. That number fell to 322 in 2001 and 194 in 2011. Bangladesh is targeting 143 by 2015.”
We’re ecstatic to hear this news. IWHC has a long track record of working in Bangladesh. From 1998 to 2003, we partnered with the Bangladesh government to overhaul the country’s population policy, shifting it from a narrow family-planning focus to a comprehensive reproductive health approach. The new policy included greater access to obstetric and prenatal care, safe abortion, contraception, education/training on gender equality and human rights for adolescents and young married couples, and HIV/AIDS and other STD prevention.
During that five-year period, maternal mortality fell 26 percent, and infant mortality by 22 percent. The percentage of women receiving prenatal care rose from 26 percent to 56 percent and the use of emergency obstetric care rose from 5 percent to 27 percent.
In addition, IWHC partnered with a consortium of four nongovernmental organizations (in fact, this was one of our earliest partnerships, which we would go on to replicate in a number of other countries). Together, this consortium helped train thousands of government healthcare workers to provide safe, early abortion services to 250,000 women annually. As a result, rates of abortion-related deaths and injuries plummeted.
Developing new health policies and training health care workers was the start of the shift in Bangladesh. In 2006, IWHC helped launch the Bangladesh Health Watch network to ensure implementation of the national health agenda. We also supported researchers at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee School of Public Health to conduct trainings for civil society organizations on integrating a human rights and sexuality approach to health advocacy.
We know that great things can happen when civil society and governments work together. In fact, the International Monetary Fund has reported that Bangladesh is on track to meet all eight of the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline. Critics have noted the country’s progress despite its sluggish economy, and how it’s frequently compared to the superpower economy next door: “‘In most of the social indicators Bangladesh has gone ahead of India,’ Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen told Al Jazeera. ‘The lesson here is about focusing on women and not just by state policy but also by non-government organisations.’”