ISLAMABAD         -      Parliamentary Secretary for National Health Services (NHS) Dr. Nausheen Hamid on Tuesday said that improving access for people, particularly women and other vulnerable segments, to health facilities is an important priority of the government.

She said this in a webinar on dissemination of key findings of the Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey was held here today organised by the National Institute of Population Studies.  Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Nausheen Hamid said improving access for people, particularly women and other vulnerable segments, to health facilities is an important priority of the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

The objective of the survey was to assess progress on maternal health indicators to help policymakers and organisations to improve health facilities for the population. Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey, the first exclusive nation-wide survey.

She said to identify the gaps in services and facilities at national and regional levels, it is necessary to have access to reliable data which enables executing organisations to implement remedial measures. The government, therefore, encourages evidence-based research work to provide a direction. Pakistan Institute of Population Studies has met this need to an extent by regularly conducting the Pakistan Demographic and Health Surveys (PDHS) besides other research studies ranging from quality of health care to nutrition. 

On maternal mortality, the first and last direct estimate of maternal mortality with a limited sample size was obtained in 2006-07, as a part of PDHS. 

It is unfortunate that substantive research work in this important area could not be undertaken at national level for more than a decade. Now finally, we have the results of the survey which provide a good insight into maternal complications and morbidities, age-specific mortality rates by region and gender. But more importantly, it provides national level maternal mortality ratio (MMR), a yardstick of progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Though the MMR has come down to 186 per 100,000 live births compared to 276 in 2006-07 and there has been improvement in relation to other developing countries with high levels of MMR, concerted efforts will be required to bring it down to the target of less than 70 by the year 2030 as prescribed in the SDGs. Other factors to be kept in view are the differences in mortality ratios in age groups and among urban and rural areas. The mortality ratio is lowest among women in the age bracket of 20-24 years but more than doubles for older women. 

Similarly, in rural areas, the mortality ratio is 26 per sent higher compared to urban areas. High number of maternal deaths in some areas apparently reflects inequalities in access to quality of health services. 

We will need to focus on such disparities to improve the quality of maternal health.