Dying for a right to health - pregnant women in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone one in every eight pregnant woman will die. It’s staggering to think that this could be so when the threat of dying in childbirth is so unlikely in the UK.
Pregnant women in Sierra Leone die from a number of reasons: obstructed labour, haemorrhage, ruptured uterus, anaemia and eclampsia.

Those complications are largely treatable provided that women have access to emergency obstetric care, professional skilled birth attendants and the right drugs and medical equipment as we regularly do here.  But for many women in Sierra Leone – particularly poorer women – such equipment and treatment is just not available. 

Costs of treatment are prohibitively high, the facilities in hospitals and clinics are simply inadequate and the status of women in many spheres of society in Sierra Leone means that little attention is given to the health of pregnant women.

Today Amnesty published a new report exploring this very issue.  Our Secretary-General Irene Khan is leading a delegation to the country where we aim to push for increased standards of health care for pregnant women to reduce the country’s maternal mortality rate.

The launch of this report comes a day ahead of Gordon Brown’s expected announcement at the UN General Assembly of a series of finance packages for developing countries – including Sierra Leone – to improve health care services for women.  Writing in the Huffington Post with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf a few weeks ago, Gordon Brown announced that he would seek to ‘improve the health of women and children, including support for free access to quality services’.

And in an article in today’s Guardian which explores Amnesty’s report, the International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas declared that is ‘it is unacceptable for people to die because they are too poor to see a doctor or nurse’.

He is right. It is unacceptable. The right to health is a basic right which should be applied to all – including pregnant women – irrespective of socio-economic status.

Amnesty’s report launch today marks the start of an ongoing campaign in Sierra Leone of action against maternal mortality in the country. An Amnesty campaign caravan will tour Sierra Leone over the coming weeks acting as a vehicle for information and debate on the issue of maternal health. For more information on this, visit Amnesty’s Demand Dignity page which we’ll update with more information or follow Irene on Twitter.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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