Pregnancy More Dangerous Than Airplanes

This post, written by Florence Machio, originally appeared on RH Reality Check

Should a woman die because she is pregnant? I think I can hear many responses of "No, I don't want my sister, mother, auntie or friend to die from giving birth." While questions are still being asked about the Kenya Airways flight 507 that crashed in Cameroon moments after take off, I would like to take this opportunity to look at the selective mourning that is taking place in Kenya.

I am deeply saddened by what happened, and as a frequent flyer on the route from between West Africa and Kenya, I am glad to be alive and my sympathies go to the families of all the 114 people who lost their lives including the crew. We are told all on board died and there are no hopes of getting anyone alive, especially because it took so long to even locate the wreckage of the plane. Two days to be specific.

This article is not in any attempt trying to piece together why they plane went down; I leave that to the experts. While everybody is trying to understand what went wrong and the newspapers awash with all possible angles to the story, my prayer is that the same attention could be accorded to the number of women who die needlessly because of pregnancy related issues that could easily be prevented.

It is said the chances of you dying in a plane crash are 1 in 400,000 to 1 in 10,000,000. In sub-Saharan Africa chances of dying out of pregnancy are 1 in 17, while in high-income countries the chances are 1 in 4,000. If this does not warrant a year of mourning, I don't know what does.

I know for a fact that some of the issues that women die from are mostly preventable, and this day and age women should not be injured because of childbirth. The little I have read of the mechanism of aircrafts, it is said that they are kept at the highest optimal safety and frequently checked and that's why air travel is relatively safe.

Because aircrafts cannot stop for roadside repairs, aircraft maintenance is kept to the highest standards. Prior to every flight, the maintenance personnel conduct a thorough visual inspection of the aircraft, checking for dents, damage or cracks on the body and any oil or fuel leaks. In addition, ever three to five days the plane's surface controls are checked. This includes the landing gears, breaks, various fluid levels as well as the oxygen system. Every eight months, the internal control system, all the emergency equipment and the hydraulic systems are checked. This requires a lot of technical expertise. Now before I bore you, I would like to see similar checks and balances around maternal mortality and morbidity to ensure that pregnancy and subsequent delivery is safe.

In Africa, "simple" issues like access to a qualified attendant while giving birth, transport to the health care facility, plus decision-making power are all a big deal. Still, some of these issues do not require technical expertise to solve. They only require government commitment. It's interesting to note what the Minister for Planning, Mr Henry Obwocha highlighted on the increase of registered health care workers, while releasing Kenya's 2006 economy survey. He stated as part of the 6.1 percent economic growth for Kenya, we had an increase in registered medical personnel by 1.8 percent. This is definitely a drop in the ocean, as skilled health care providers are needed to reduce maternal mortality.

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