Caribbean not going to achieve maternal mortality MDG

-IDB official

By Oluatoyin Alleyne in Washington DC

Unless something “miraculous” happens over the next three years, the Caribbean is not going to make the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on maternal mortality, says Andrew Morrison, Inter-American Development (IDB) Chief of the Gender and Diversity Division, Social Sector Department.

Countries are supposed to reduce their maternal mortality death rate by three quarters between the years 1990 and 2015.

“The Caribbean is not going to get there,” he told a group of Caribbean journalists at the IDB’s Washington DC office yesterday, while noting that Latin America’s ability to meet the goal is also worrisome.

Morrison said while he did not have specific projections for individual countries, he could say “…with a great degree of confidence that the Caribbean as a whole is not going to make the MDG on maternal mortality.”

For Guyana, this will not be new information as last year a United Nations report which assessed the state of midwifery globally indicated that this country had made insufficient progress towards improving maternal health and was not on track to reach the fifth MDG.

Maternal mortality levels Guyana jumped to a high in 2010, with a string of reported deaths. A Cabinet sub-committee had been established to address the issue, but to date no findings have been made public by the committee.

Then Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy had described 2010 as a “setback” for the national programme, while noting that the spike was the highest in six years. There has been no rebuttal of the prediction made by the United Nations report. ‘The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011: Delivering Health, Saving Lives,’ coordinated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), had named Guyana as one of several countries which was not likely meet the fifth MDG: Improving Maternal Health. It said in Guyana’s case, Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) significantly declined between 1990 and 2000, from 310 deaths per 100,000 live births to 120 per 100,000. However, MMR more than doubled over the next eight years, reaching 270 per 100,000 in 2008- the report did not capture the number of reported deaths in 2009 and or 2010

Meanwhile, Morrison also said a study done jointly by the PAHO and the University of Minnesota in 2000, which looked at forced sexual initiation in nine Caribbean countries, showed that 47.6% of women in the Caribbean had a sexual initiation which was forced. A third of men also had forced sexual initiation, the study revealed.

“The figure seems shockingly high to me but I suspect in post conflict society you see numbers comparable to this but probably not in other developing countries that aren’t post conflict,” he told the journalists.

The countries involved in that study were Guyana, Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Grenada and St Lucia.

According to Morrison it is difficult to get international data on violence against women, since the different sample surveys ask the questions in different ways. But he said the figures he presented come from demographic and health surveys and reproductive health surveys included in an upcoming publication for Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control.

In Haiti, 12% of women were victims of violence in the last 12 months, in the Dominican Republic the figure was 11% and in Jamaica the figure was 7%.

The IDB’s take on violence  against women, he said,  is that among other issues it is an economic/developmental issue, since the bank has evidence that shows women who are victims tend to earn lower incomes, be less productive work, tend to be absent more frequently from work and as a result there is a productivity impact.

Morrison added that the IDB cares about gender equality because the bank cares about women’s rights and about men. He said when the bank speaks about gender issues, it is never confined to women but includes men’s issues and he noted that in the Caribbean there “are significant male gender issues.”  He said gender equality is linked to better results on poverty reduction; it is related to more rapid growth; and improves the effectiveness of public investment.

Meanwhile, Senior Labour Markets Economics Specialist at the IDB, Laura Ripani, who also addressed journalists, said some 32% of youths in the Caribbean are not studying or working, and worryingly a third of this number is not even looking for a job. In Belize, the figure is 31.92% and in Jamaica 29.21%. And many of the youths who work in the Caribbean are not employed under good conditions, Ripani added.

The journalists are on a Women’s Empowerment Reporting Tour organized by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Centre (FPC), in conjunction with the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. The tour aims to demonstrate US leadership in combating domestic violence, show grassroots efforts to empower women socially and economically and also to discuss tactics for developing programmes to help women.

The group, which has representatives from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas, Guyana, Suriname, Antigua and Suriname, leaves today for Atlanta, where the tour ends on Friday.