The Impact of Maternal Death on Families and Communities
Over the past two decades, there has been a strong push on behalf of governments and international aid organizations to improve the health and well-being of mothers around the world, especially in developing nations. Although great strides have been achieved in some regions, mothers are still dying from preventable pregnancy-related complications every day. In 2010, an estimated 287,000 mothers died, leaving behind husbands, children, family members and communities to deal with the ramifications of this tragic loss.
The loss of a mother is devastating for her existing children and newborn. Beyond the immense personal suffering of the surviving family members, maternal death often leads to worse health outcomes for her children. Newborns that lose their mothers during childbirth are less likely to reach their first birthday than those whose mothers remain alive to care for them during this critical period. Surviving children are deprived of their primary caretaker and thus are more likely to suffer poor health. Older children must often take on new household duties that disrupt schooling, which may lead to missed opportunities later in life.
The direct costs of maternal death can push families into poverty and negatively affect outcomes for each member. These costs include hospital fees for maternity care, transportation, and funeral costs. Families that endured maternal death spent almost one-third of their total annual income on these direct costs, a price that forces many families to look for alternative financing such as money lenders or selling land. These costs can be high enough to force a family into poverty, especially those at lower income levels.
Not only do the high direct costs of maternal death harm a family’s economic status, the loss of a contributing family member causes financial disruption. Women often contribute to the family’s resources by working the family farm or running a business. The loss of income can further deplete the surviving family members’ resources and push them closer to poverty.
Although the families bear the immediate burden of losing their mother, the communities suffer long-term effects of high maternal mortality rates. According to the International Monetary Fund, if women were employed at the same level as men, the gross domestic product would increase for all countries in which men outnumber women in the workplace. India, for example, would see a 27% boost in GDP by achieving equality in the workforce while the US would see a 5% gain. However, these gains will always be out of reach as long as preventable pregnancy-related complications continue to cause maternal death and prevent mothers from realizing their potential. Like Mayra Buvinic, Sector Director of the Gender and Development Group at the World Bank said, “Investing in women and girls is the right thing to do… it’s smart economics.”
Hassan, Sved Touhid. 2009. Village road on a river bank. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/6Fxoi3*
International Center for Research on Women. (2014.) A price too high to bear: the costs of maternal mortality to families and communities. Retreived from: http://www.icrw.org/files/publications/TB_Price_v3.pdf
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