January 27, 2010 / 12:04 AM / 10 years ago

Amnesty says Burkina maternal care can be "lethal"

LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of women are dying every year during pregnancy and childbirth in the African state of Burkina Faso because discrimination stops them from accessing sexual health services, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

“Women in Burkina Faso are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination which makes giving birth potentially lethal,” Claudio Cordone, Amnesty’s interim secretary general, said in a report.

“Every woman has the right to life and the right to adequate healthcare, and the government should redouble its efforts to address preventable maternal death.”

In a special report on maternal death in Burkina Faso, Amnesty said there were shortages of medical supplies and trained staff, and said discriminatory attitudes and corruption among health workers were also preventing women seeking care.

Some women die because they cannot reach a health clinic in time, many die because they can’t pay the fees demanded by medical staff, and yet more die because of shortages of blood, drugs, equipment or qualified medical staff, the human rights group said. Many of the 2,000 deaths each year could be easily prevented if women had timely access to healthcare.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and is ranked 177 out of 182 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2009 report.

Despite having equal status under the law, Amnesty said most women in Burkina Faso were subordinate to men in their lives and had little or no control over decisions such as when to seek medical care and when to get pregnant.

Women and girls are often forced into early marriage and female genital mutilation, the report said.

Poverty is a major contributing factor in preventable maternal death, particularly for women living in rural areas.

Amnesty said a government policy introduced in 2006 to subsidize between 80 percent and 100 percent of the cost of childbirth for some of the poorest women was a good intention, but had been thwarted by a lack of information and corruption.

The rights group called on Burkina Faso’s authorities to expand and improve access to family planning services, remove financial barriers to maternal healthcare services and strive for more even access to health facilities and trained staff.

“Maternal death is a tragedy that robs thousands of families of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters each year,” Cordone said. “So long as women are not allowed control over their own bodies, they will continue to die in their thousands.”

Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by Janet Lawrence

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