Health: Maternal Health — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 12th January 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 8:14 pm, 12th January 2011

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on introducing this very important subject. I will focus on a country currently in the news and in much need of help, Southern Sudan, where fulfilments of MDGs seem a distant dream. When I was in Southern Sudan some months ago, these grim statistics highlighted the situation. One in seven pregnant women dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Immunisation is available for only 17 per cent of the population, leaving 83 per cent vulnerable to avoidable diseases such as polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus. A girl is more likely to die in pregnancy than to have access to secondary education. We were told that there are only 10 fully qualified midwives for the whole of Southern Sudan. In many rural areas around towns such as Yei, roads are so bad that access to hospitals may be virtually impossible. A woman with obstructed labour may have to endure over two hours on the back of a bicycle to reach a hospital; many die en route. The destruction of educational institutions during the war has left a dearth of young people with educational qualifications to apply for professional training as nurses and midwives.

Those statistics will be even worse now, with massive numbers of returnees fleeing from the north in fear of reprisals following the referendum. They are now living as displaced people in dire conditions, with no adequate facilities for care and no homes to return to. Following the referendum, there will be an urgent need to address these problems if the existing humanitarian crisis is not to escalate even further, with a risk of undermining political stability. DfID has made significant funding available but in areas where my NGO, HART, is working-Northern Bahr-El-Ghazal, Equatoria and the Nuba mountains-we see little evidence of DfID's funding. I therefore ask the Minister for reassurance that DfID's resources are being used effectively to address these priorities of maternal mortality in these critical days in Southern Sudan.