Bolivian social program reduces maternity deaths

Franz Chavez, La Paz

13 March 2010

A Bolivian social program that prevents the deaths of two mothers a day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth is making headway despite administrative difficulties.

The health ministry’s National Strategic Plan for 2009-2015 to improve maternal, peri-natal and neonatal health said: “In Bolivia, the risk of dying from causes related to pregnancy, childbirth or the postnatal period is very high. Every year an average of 623 women die from complications during pregnancy.”

The “Juana Azurduy” mother-child subsidy program introduced eight months ago should reduce the maternal mortality rate in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, by 80% in five years’ time, said former health minister Ramiro Tapia.

Tapia achieved good public health results as minister, before leaving President Evo Morales’ cabinet in January.

The latest statistics, from 2008, put the rate at 222 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the second highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (after Haiti).

Many mothers are now attending health centres, encouraged by payments of a subsidy worth US$258 dollars before, during and after childbirth.

The subsidy, paid in 17 installments, is conditional on the mother attending a state health centre for four prenatal check-ups, receiving medical attention during childbirth, and attending 12 postnatal check-ups for the mother and baby until the child is two years old.

The stipend is complemented by the health ministry’s universal mother and child insurance plan (SUMI), which ensures free care for mothers giving birth in any hospital in the country.

Tapia said an initial assessment reported that subsidy coverage extended to 98% of Bolivian municipalities, and 400,000 people had benefited from the program, which includes education on family planning and the spacing of births for mothers.

The mother-child subsidy program is one of the achievements Bolivia presented at the March 1-12 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Before leaving the health ministry, Tapia received reports that the number of women visiting public health clinics and hospitals had increased from 20 to 120 a day in many cases.


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