While Ethiopia’s health system has improved, women are still dying from common birthing complications that can occur before, during and after childbirth. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that approximately 25,000 maternal deaths occur annually.
Luwei Pearson, Chief of the Health Section at the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) in Ethiopia said, “There must be efforts to ensure that health facilities are not just available but that they are also functional by, for instance, fitting them with electricity and piped water.”
As of 2011, Ethiopia recorded 676 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. In 2005, there were only 673 maternal deaths recorded. Ethiopia aims to decrease its current maternal death rate to 267 as of 2015.
The five major causes of maternal mortality in Ethiopia are ruptured uterus, abortion complications, postpartum hemorrhage, puerperal sepsis, and preeclampsia/eclampsia.
The Ethiopian government has created steps to lower the rates of maternal death. These initiatives include the use of a scorecard to determine the effectiveness of the health system as well as the creation of a health extension program that has trained about 30,000 extension, health workers.
Currently, only 1% of expectant mothers deliver with the supervision of extension health workers. The Ministry of Health reports that these workers have individually helped 2,500 people. The number helped will increase as more extension health workers are trained.
Rural areas require particular attention as around 83% of Ethiopia’s 87.1 million residents reside in rural areas. There is a drastic difference between the percentages of babies delivered with the help of skilled personnel in urban versus rural areas with 45% in urban areas and only 3% in rural areas.
Health facilities must also be built in order to ensure hygienic birthing conditions in rural areas. The University of Addis Ababa determined in 2009 that in the rural Tigray Region, 80% of maternal deaths occur in the home and 50% were the result of failed transportation to a health facility.
“We are optimistic that [the] goal [of reducing child and maternal mortality] is achievable… because we have seen Ethiopia achieve a more than 40 percent reduction in child mortality [among children] under five in the last five years. We have seen sub-Saharan Africa achieve a 39 percent reduction,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
– Kasey Beduhn