2. Burkina Faso: Maternal health is a human right, insists Amnesty International (Farm Radio International, RFI, Amnesty International)

| March 22, 2010

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Moussa is the father of five children. In December 2008, his wife died during childbirth. The child she was carrying was stillborn. Moussa attempted to call an ambulance while his wife was in labour, but it came too late. He is still shaken, more than a year after the death of his wife. Moussa has never understood why the ambulance was so slow and why his wife died.

In Burkina Faso, over 2,000 women die of complications related to childbirth each year. Last month, the NGO Amnesty International Burkina Faso crisscrossed the country in a caravan of awareness about maternal health issues.

Christian Ouedraogo is the coordinator of the maternal mortality campaign. He explained that the caravan allowed the Amnesty International team to reach the maximum number of people to talk about the causes of maternal mortality. Different causes affect different regions of the country. For example, in one area, the campaign talked about female genital cutting as a cause of maternal mortality. In other regions, early marriage or refusal to attend health care facilities was discussed.

Despite the various causes, the message conveyed to populations during the caravan was the same: “Maternal health is a human right.” And people must assert this right. In Burkina Faso, childbirth costs are subsidized. A woman who gives birth with no complications should pay only 900 CFA (approximately 1.9 American dollars or 1.4 Euros) for medical care. But many are not aware of the subsidy, so they end up paying more.

Women in Burkina Faso also face other social and economic stresses. In Gorum-Gorum, a town in northern Burkina Faso, Fadima has been on her feet since 6 o’clock in the morning. This young woman of 30 earns money by pounding millet. She also travels to town to wash clothes. Her days are very long.

Fadima has two children and is seven months pregnant. She has experienced complicated births that resulted in the death of several children before. But this time, her delivery will be different with the help of Ms. Traoré, manager of an NGO that works on reproductive rights and maternal health. Ms. Traoré encourages women to give birth in health centers. Fadima told Ms. Traoré that this will be her last pregnancy. Her husband agrees because he wants her to take care of the other children.

Still in Gorum-Gorum, another major problem is obstetric fistula. A fistula is a rupture that occurs during a complicated delivery, when a caesarean section is needed but not available. L’association Cellal Rewbe is a partner of Amnesty International. It is working with communities to raise awareness of the causes of obstetric fistula through public theatre. The organization also treats women suffering from fistula.

Mr. Ouedraogo said that Amnesty’s work continues. Until June 2010, Amnesty’s focus will remain on sexual and reproductive rights. They will work to ensure that women have access to contraceptive methods and the information they need about government subsidies.