Poor Sanitation Killing Mothers, Newborns: Study

Poor Sanitation Killing Mothers, Newborns: Study
File - AP Photo/Anupam Nath
Poor Sanitation Killing Mothers, Newborns: Study

Lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene in birth settings is killing mothers and newborns in the developing world, a new study has warned.

In a flagship paper, 16 researchers from various organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF), call to protect the lives of new mothers and their babies, by improving access to safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene in health-care facilities and homes.

The paper published in PLOS Medicine argues that despite improvements in health care, new mothers and newborns are still dying because a reliable supply of safe water, good hygiene practice and adequate toilets are often not present.

A companion paper in PLOS ONE illustrates the situation in Tanzania, where less than a third (30.5 per cent) of births occur in places with safe water and basic sanitation. In 2013, one in 44 women in the country faced dying in childbirth in their lifetime.

Women face a similar level of risk in many developing countries. Globally, an estimated 289,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth in 2013, a number which researchers say can be more rapidly reduced through better provision and monitoring of safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene to prevent infection and improve care.

Some 38 per cent of health-care facilities in 54 low-income countries are without an improved water source, according to a forthcoming survey, leaving doctors, nurses and midwives struggling to care for their patients.

"Nearly 8,000 women in Tanzania die each year in or immediately after childbirth. Sepsis from infection causes at least 10 per cent of these deaths," Lenka Benova of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, lead author of the companion paper on Tanzania, said.

"Nearly half of women, and disproportionately the country's poorest, are giving birth at home, and almost none of these homes have clean water and basic sanitation. But women cannot be expected to go to a health facility to deliver if it is dirty," said Benova.

"This situation is not limited to Tanzania. What is frustrating is we know infection-related deaths are preventable, with the addition of clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practice.

"Our hope is these findings will guide future work on UN development goals and make the provision of these services a priority, when trying to improve the health of new mothers and their babies," Benova added.

"We have known since Victorian times about the importance of clean water and good hygiene in birth. Yet today tens of thousands of mothers will be giving birth in places where doctors and midwives, if present, do not have access to clean water. The process of giving life should not mean unduly risking death," Yael Velleman, senior policy analyst, sanitation and health, at WaterAid, said.

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