Iraqi mothers and newborns suffer health collapse

Save the Children has just published its annual State of the World’s Mothers report.

The report emphasises the low financial cost of many improvements to maternal and neonate health, and the success of many developing countries in improving survival rates. But it also reports the disastrous effects of conflict, citing today’s Iraq as an example:

In Iraq, years of conflict and international sanctions have damaged the health system and taken a serious toll on the well-being of mothers and babies. Maternal mortality has more than doubled, rising from 117 deaths per 100,000 live births in the late 1980s to the current 250. Infant and child mortality have also risen sharply. The current war has disrupted food distribution and damaged electrical, water and sewage systems, creating even more difficult conditions.

With newborn mortality at 59/1000, Iraq now has the highest newborn death rate of any middle income country, and the 4th highest of any country, equal with Sierra Leone. Only in Afghanistan and Liberia are more newborn babies lost.

Almost a quarter of Iraqi mothers receive no prenatal care, and there are no skilled personnel present at 28% of births.

Only 10% of Iraqi women are using modern contraceptives, compared to 28% in Syria and 41% in Jordan. As Save the Children writes, ‘Effective use of family planning methods can help save the lives of mothers and babies by enabling women to avoid pregnancy when they are too young or too old, and to space their births at intervals that are healthy for them and their babies.’

These figures illustrate why civilian death estimates such as Iraq Body Count show only a limited part of the picture. Iraq Body Count does a great job of counting civilian deaths attributable to the conflict which are reported in the media. However, the childbed deaths of mothers and babies rarely if ever feature in news reports, however preventable they are. Rising maternal and infant death rates are included in the ‘Lancet Report’, which is one of the reasons why its civilian mortality estimate is so much higher.