Maternal Health in Latin America and Caribbean

By Sophia Pierre-Antoine – YWCA of Haiti

On March 15, during the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women/Beijing+20 (2015), Sophia from the YWCA of Haiti gave a speech and shared her story on mental health and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) from her perspective of Latin America and Caribbean (LAC).


Sophia Pierre-Antoine YWCA of Haiti

Over the last 20 years it is true that if we take a look at the statistics on maternal health in the LAC region, the fact that jumps out the most is that maternal mortality has been reduced by 40% in Latin America and 36% in the Caribbean. Yes, this is very much a victory to celebrate; however we are still dying.  Pregnancy and birth related death remain one of the leading causes of death of young women and girls.

I will share a quick story:  Although I speak on behalf of the region if you could please take your imagination to Haiti. This is my home country, where last year, a girl not yet 14 took her own life after her father threatened to kill her once he found out that she was pregnant. I was not able to find out if the sexual relations which led to her pregnancy was consensual or forced, but what I do know is that a 14 year old girl is dead. What can we do to stop this?

I share this story as a reminder that maternal health is also very much linked to the health of the person, the woman, the young women, the adolescent girl, as much as it is about the future or recently born child.  Haiti has the highest child death rates with 76 children who do not reach the age of five for every 1000 who lives, and as my YWCA sister Paola will mention, Bolivia is the 2nd highest with 57.

Access to good health services and health education has proven time and time again to reduce maternal and child mortality as we have noticed in Cuba and Costa Rica with 7 per 1000 and 11 per 1000 respectively. Now compare that to Haiti and Bolivia.

Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health education, medical services and skilled professionals poses a great barrier for young women and girls especially rural women, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual, transgender women, and women living in poverty where diabetes, malaria and HIV (21%), high blood pressure, infections, hemorrhages, and unsafe abortions claims the lives of many. These deaths are preventable. Let’s remember our promise of the 5th MDG to, and I quote, “improve maternal health”. I repeat, each of these deaths are preventable.

It is important to remember that the LAC region differs widely in wealth, size, and culture and so statistics, even when they are done with the proper tools and resources, are often skewed. As a matter of fact, stats from different sources give different findings.  To illustrate this, let us look at the disparity in women having a 1 in 44 chance of death in Haiti to 1 in 560 in Belize, and 1 in 1400 in Cuba and Costa Rica. Now imagine for a moment the inequity between the richest and poorest in these countries. It seems as the inequality reflected between countries, can also be seen within countries.

That said, it’s disheartening to hear that the average government expenditure for the region for maternal and child health is only 7%. Before I end, here is a key factor to maternal health that I want to emphasize. Child marriage, legal or not, bound by the state, the church, or by informal deal between families causes girls as young as 12 year old to become mothers, children birthing children, often born with complications and underweight, or to die in the process. We are gathered here today to share experiences, think about what worked and what didn’t work in our programs for the betterment of our future programs on maternal health, and to make sure that pregnant young girls are never excluded from safe spaces and further isolated. As a young women, I say the ball is in our hands, in your hands, too make sure no more young women or girl has to suffer through these hardships in Latin America and the Caribbean.   If the young women who passed had access to inclusive and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education, chases are that she would have been capable of exercising her right to be healthy, to contraception and safe sex barriers, and to choose when and if she wants to become a mother. Thank you.