Saturday, 27 June 2009

Maternal and infant mortality in Pakistan - the silent killer

Every 30 minutes, one Pakistani woman loses her life due to reproductive health complications that leads to 276 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

One in 23 Pakistani women die in childbirth, compared to one in 5,000 women in developed countries. Most of these deaths are preventable. There is widespread poor reproductive and nutritional health among women.

Sixty-five percent of women in Pakistan deliver their babies at home and only eight percent of home births are supervised by a trained attendant.

Pakistan's average fertility rate of 4.1 children born per woman is one of the highest in South Asia.

And in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 135 out of every 1,000 children under the age of five die from curable illnesses.

(sources: World Health Organization and USAID)

It is very likely that the actual situation on the ground is more serious. In the absence of a comprehensive mechanism for recording mortality and its causes, and the fact that while most of the data is available from urban areas majority of population in Pakistan still lives in rural areas where mortality figures are likely to misreported or misrepresented.

At a time when the media headlines in and about Pakistan are focussed almost entirely on war against Taliban, suicide bombers, corruption, electricity shortages and dire national economic situation - a major piece of news went almost unnoticed. After a relentless campaign by civil society and advocacy organisations government of Pakistan has finally endorsed the Maternal Mortality & Human Rights Resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). This would go a long way towards raising awareness about this issue which has until now been a low priority for the government policy makers.

But this is not a menace that the cash starved and intellectually deprived government of Pakistan can deal on its own. Civil society and independent charities are increasingly becoming active at advocacy and practical levels of support. Once such organisation is the UK based charity International Foundation for Mother and Child Health (IFMCH) who have set out as their mission to reduce maternal and child mortality in Pakistan and improve life expectancy for mothers and children through increased awareness of personal health among young mothers to be, improvement in community knowledge and attitudes towards mother and child health, training for health care providers, and expansion in access to health services through a state of the art maternal hospital to serve as a centre of excellence.

Dr. Saleem Khan, Chairperson of IFMCH, was among scores of British Pakistanis who went to Pakistan to help the victims of earthquake in Kashmir valley in 2005 and had a first hand experience of the gravity of problem with maternal health and came back convinced that government and aid agencies alone cannot solve the problem on their own and that a wider and actively hand on intervention from civil society is needed. Trained as a maternal health expert he is a successful property tycoon in Cheshire. He has declared to give it all up to focus his energies in delivering the vision of the IFMCH. Strong believer in Allama Iqbal's (national poet of Pakistan) verse

"Fard Qaim Rabte Millat Say Hai Tanha Kuch Naheen
Mauj Hai Darya Main Aur Baroon-e-Darya Kuch Naheen"

(literally meaning that an individual is successful connected with the nation but nothing without it - just like a wave is a wave when in the river but nothing outside it), Dr Saleem is looking for citizens of the world irrespective of nationality, religion or race to come along and join him in achieving this herculean task. Over the last few days IFMCH has also launched a Facebook group for anyone interested to join the conversation.


  1. This is more critical among IDP's in Swat and Fata where according to recent reports almost 69,300 women ar epregnant and nearly six thousand of them are expected to give birth within the next month. Shortage of medical and food supplies is making this group most vulnerable among others.

  2. Very interesting article... there is a fundraising dinner on 30th August in Cheshire to raise awareness and help refugees. More details can be found at: