A state welfare scheme to provide lunches for pregnant women and lactating mothers is launched in Karnataka's state capital Bengaluru in October 2017. (Photo by IANS)
Church leaders have welcomed a big reduction in India's maternal mortality rate, with nearly 12,000 fewer women dying during childbirth in 2016.
They said the improvement was the result of a joint effort by government and private health workers.
India's maternal mortality rate (MMR) registered a 22 percent reduction in three years. The rate declined to 130 deaths per 100,000 births in 2014-16 from 167 deaths in 2011-13, according to data released by the Registrar General of India on June 6.
This meant India saved the lives of nearly 12,000 pregnant women in 2016, UNICEF said in a statement analyzing the data.
"India has shown impressive progress in reducing maternal deaths, with nearly 1,000 fewer women now dying of pregnancy related complications each month in India as compared to 2013," UNICEF's India representative Yasmin Ali Haque said.
The result is "very encouraging for us all because the church is at the forefront of the health sector in the country," said Father Mathew Perumpil, secretary of the health office of the Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference.
He said one reason for the achievement was that people were made aware about facilities by the government and privately run health centers.
The government has introduced several schemes to provide free medicine and health checks for pregnant women in state facilities. Federal schemes are also available to ensure healthy food for pregnant women and newly born babies and their mothers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the government's efforts to improve access to high-quality maternal services and increased emphasis on women's education are some of the reasons behind India's groundbreaking progress.
"India's present MMR is below the millennium development goal target and puts the country on track to achieve the sustainable development goal target of an MMR below 70 by 2030," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia.
The result of the study will give a morale boost to everyone, including volunteers who work closely with the government, said Father Perumpil, noting that the church runs more than 6,000 health facilities with a special focus on the poor.
Church volunteers have established and manage thousands of self-help groups in remote areas where the government has no access. These groups are instrumental in advocating institutional deliveries, bringing the MMR down, the priest said.
The MMR is an internationally accepted index to assess a country's development. In nations such as India, more women die during childbirth because of excessive bleeding as basic health facilities are not available in far-flung villages.
Women also die of infections after childbirth. The best way to reduce the MMR is to encourage women to give birth in a hospital or health care center, said Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the joint women's program of the Church of North India.
"If the government data are to be believed, it is a morale boost for all involved in the health sector, but we should not be carried away by that," said Chatterjee.
"I am hopeful that it is not on paper but we have actually achieved it … because when we speak about mortality we have to take care about hygiene too. It plays a vital role in the maternal mortality rate."
She said the much-hyped project to provide toilets for all homes had not been as successful as expected.
Archana Sinha, who heads the department of women's studies at the Jesuit-managed Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, said the achievement was due to awareness among women and even among male members of families.