The economics of childbirth

2013-08-07 12:34
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It is unacceptable that instead of the joy of a new life, childbirth can still bring hardship which affects not just families but the economy as a whole, says a Fin24 user:

ANOTHER day, another month, another year, again we are celebrating women’s day in South Africa.

Parallel to these celebrations is despair in some homes: another woman has died a preventable maternal death, another is raped and another is killed by her partner, while yet another is selling her body for sex in the streets in the name of poverty.

Women in some communities see motherhood as affirmation of their identities as women. Yet for those communities, childbirth is experienced not as the joyful event it should be but as a private hell that may end in death. Being poor and pregnant and giving birth at public hospitals is equated to opening your own coffin. 

With only three years to go, the millennium development goals to reduce maternal mortality remain a long way off target. According to SA triennial Saving Mothers reports, more than 300 000 women die giving birth in our health system. This doubles the 1990 figure because of HIV/Aids. 

We know why these women die, we have answers on how they die, and we know what to do to prevent these deaths. 

A week ago the government, through its spokesperson Phumla Williams, expressed concern about the rise in child prostitution, with parents even encouraging young girls to stop their schooling and go on the streets to make money because of poverty.

In other developing countries too teenage pregnancy has been identified as one of reasons for school dropout among young girls. It can be a consequence and/or a cause of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Pregnancy and the consequences of childbirth remain the leading causes of death and disability among women of reproductive age today - the prime productive age for economic advancement. What a waste; the country is losing people who could have contributed economically.

The World Bank report Closing the deadly gap between what we know and what we do: Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health (2013) confirms what we already know: the economic benefits of investing in sex matters are as important as individual health benefits.

Addressing the reproductive health needs of women is a prerequisite to achieving gender equality. Here are a few points:

 - By delaying pregnancy, young girls stay in school longer, accumulate more skills, and eventually earn salaries.

 - Early pregnancies, especially among school-aged girls, may reduce future earning potential.

 - Not only does lower fertility potentially improve economic outcomes, but better economic opportunities may reduce fertility rates.

 - Poor maternal health imposes an economic burden on households. Although there are free maternal health services in South Africa, families of women who die during pregnancy still bear a burden as they explore other alternatives for a cure. Childbirth is not expected to bring death and illness, but birth and new life.

 - Poverty is a contributing factor to maternal mortality, and maternal mortality is a contributor to poverty. The death of a mother puts a burden on the caregivers of the newborn baby she leaves behind.

In China, studies show that the total economic burden of a maternal death was estimated at more than a full year of household income.

 - The loss of a parent impacts on human capital investments in children. In South Africa, when a mother dies her children are less likely to be enrolled in school and they also complete fewer years of schooling than children whose mothers are still alive.

 - Linking with gender equality, research shows that countries with a higher proportion of women in parliament and other decision-making bodies have low maternal deaths, although the link is unclear.

In celebrating women’s month this year, let’s not forget women’s health and the burden on the economy if sexual and reproductive rights are ignored. Let us create opportunities and strengthen women to make informed choices.

As research shows, poverty and lack of opportunities are key determinants of early childbearing, and “too soon, too early” puts a burden on the economy of households and that of the country. 

Improving gender equity improves reproductive health outcomes. Greater economic opportunities can alter traditional definitions of gender roles.

 - Fin24

* This guest post is by Nomafrench Mbombo, associate professor at the Faculty of Community & Health Sciences, University of the Western Cape.

* Add your voice to our Women's Wealth Issue and help empower others this Women's Month.

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