ISLAMABAD – International Mother’s Day is being celebrated across the world today (May 13) to pay tribute and offer gratitude to our mothers who have raised all of us facing many tribulations.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, many households and families will be denied this opportunity because of the untimely deaths of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. According to Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07 and UNICEF, Pakistan has an alarmingly high maternal mortality rate (276 maternal deaths per 100,000 births) with an estimated 20,000 women losing their lives every year due to causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Just 16 per cent of the poorest women give birth assisted by a skilled attendant. Infant mortality in Pakistan is also among the highest in Asia - second only to Afghanistan.

On the occasion of International Mother’s Day, Dr Ali Mohammad Mir, Director Programmes, Population Council, said, “In Pakistan we must pursue strategies to ensure that all women have access to safe and effective maternal health services. Islam places especial importance on the status of mothers. In fact heaven has been placed under the feet of mothers. Most of the maternal deaths are preventable as they occur in women who have pregnancies that are too closely spaced or too many in women who are either too young or too old.”

Dr Mir informed that one of the most effective and efficient ways of preventing maternal deaths is by spacing pregnancies. He said according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07, one out of three births are spaced less than 2 years apart and presently less than 22 per cent of women are using a modern contraceptive method. A quarter of women in the reproductive age group would like to adopt family planning but are unable to do so. This is referred to as the “unmet need for family planning”. He said in the past, family planning was promoted as a way to control fertility and lower population growth. The concept had limited acceptability among masses as they failed to appreciate the benefits of family planning. 

He said a recently completed Population Council project illustrates how much can be done to increase contraceptive use, improve health and well being of the people even in most remote parts of the country. The project promoted the concept of birth spacing as a means of ensuring health of the mothers and their children, thereby, ensuring family well being. The project changed the way people thought about family planning and influenced personal behaviours, explains Dr. Mir.

In the project, high quality services were ensured by training public and private sector providers and in less than four years, contraceptive use increased dramatically — by an average of nine percentage points — in 14 districts across Pakistan. The greatest increase occurred among those with the most need: poor, rural, and young couples. The project entitled ‘FALAH’ successfully averted 3,000 maternal deaths nationally over the course of its implementation period.

Dr Mir explained that when a woman has access to family planning she can space her pregnancies at longer intervals. This has a positive impact not just on the health and well-being of the mother and the child to be born but also on the woman’s other children, who can thus get the due care and attention they require and deserve. With contraception, younger women can delay their pregnancy; there are also fewer unsafe abortions arising from unwanted pregnancies. Maternal and infant death rates also decline. Dr. Mir said efforts to improve the well being of mothers’ health must include provision of family planning services so as to ensure that no child is deprived of maternal care and affection.