India, which has the dubious distinction of accounting for 25 percent of global maternal deaths, will benefit from a joint effort by doctors to promote safe motherhood.
The Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) Friday marked the successful conclusion of its first such effort - a 2,400 km walkathon 'Suprabha Ganga Yatra' led by gynaecologist Shirin Venkat along the Ganges.
The walkathon from Gangasagar to Gaumukh and Gangotri covered five states - West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttranchhal - to create awareness on the issue.
The three-and-a-half month walkathon that started Jan 17 had around 40 members, including volunteers of the Nehru Yuva Kendra and people from various walks of life, joining hands to conduct health camps in over 100 small town and villages along the route.
"Maternal mortality is the most shocking and yet the most ignored public health problem across the world. The numbers are staggering - every year approximately 600,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes globally and 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries," said Duru Shah, president of FOGSI.
"India alone accounts for 25 percent of these deaths, and has the third highest maternal mortality rate at 407 per 100,000 births, below Timor-Leste (800) and Nepal (415) in the South-East Asia region. Even countries like Thailand and Malaysia have a lower maternal mortality rate (MMR) than India," she pointed out.
With no funding support from the government barring the help provided by the Nehru Yuva Kendra through its large network, Suprabha Ganga Yatra was an intensive effort to spread the message of safe motherhood among the rural population in their own local languages, said Venkat.
"The objective behind the Yatra was to make rural women aware of the medical services that are available to them today and make them understand the need for availing them to prevent pregnancy and childbirth related complications that can cause debilitating problems besides death," Venkat said.
Besides educating young girls and women about reproductive health, the first phase of the five-year programme saw over thousands of young girls being vaccinated with a rubella vaccine in order to protect them against German measles during pregnancy. Many were able to receive timely medical advice and nutrition supplements.
The next stage with funding support of corporates like pharma company AstraZeneca is expected to see training of health workers to ensure timely help to young women through pregnancy and childbirth and also spread awareness about contraceptives and other health issues, said Venkat.
"Reducing maternal mortality is not solely about saving women's lives, it is about increasing the general quality of care and the information mothers-to-be receive before becoming pregnant," Shah said.
Educating the youth, particularly young women about pregnancy management, will help them and the professionals treating them by empowering them to make responsible choices, allowing them to lead healthy lives along with their children, she said.