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Friday, September 25, 2020
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2011 (IPS) - Addressing the National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Chicago, Illinois in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated unequivocally that, “Of all the forms of inequality in the world, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Four and a half decades later, at a time when scientific advancements in technology and medicine are growing at an exponential pace, scores of lives continue to be lost every year due to a lack of access to basic healthcare.
Perhaps the most abominable manifestation of such archaic injustice in the 21st century is the persistence of maternal mortality, which currently stands at about 251 deaths per 100,000 live births worldwide, according to the most recent statistics from the United Nations.
Though the maternal mortality rate has “fallen” since the 1980s, the number of preventable deaths per year is still a staggering 350,000 – a figure that, taken in tandem with huge advances in medical research and development, is simply unacceptable.
“The vast majority of deaths are avoidable,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, the newly appointed executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “In sub-Saharan Africa alone, over a million children are left motherless at the moment of birth,” Osotimehin said, addressing a panel of experts at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) here Tuesday.
The Free Market Isn’t a Fair Market
Despite the U.N.’s insistence that economic development and increased access to education will lead to a reduction in maternal mortality, evidence from the so-called “First World” suggests that the problem lies not in the under-development of post-colonial nations, but in the very essence of the modern capitalist state – which rests on unquestioning faith in the efficiency of the free market system.
A report entitled ‘Women in America: Indicators of Economic and Social Well- being’, released Tuesday by the United States Department of Commerce, mapped the areas and trajectories of women’s inclusion and exclusion within U.S. society and economy.
Presenting the report via a press teleconference on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce Becky Blank told reporters that for the first time key indicators of women’s status in the U.S. are consolidated into one publication, and hailed the effort as a fresh new attempt to stay up to speed on women’s empowerment.
However, while the report celebrates positive trends, such as the fact that a higher percentage of women than men in the U.S. are likely to obtain a college degree, it rushes quickly past the ominous finding that maternal mortality has been on the rise for the last twenty years – due to a lack of access to the most basic healthcare.
In a scathing attack on the U.S. system of privatised healthcare, Amnesty International (AI) published an expose in 2010 entitled ‘Deadly Delivery – the Maternal Healthcare Crisis in the U.S.’
The report highlights the uncivilised face of the world’s largest “democracy”, which refuses to provide its citizens the most basic of human rights. In 2008, U.S. federal agencies set a goal of reducing maternal mortality to 4 percent of every 100,000 live births by 2010. However, the most recent statistics show that rates have skyrocketed to 13.3 percent nationwide.
According to the report, urban centres – particularly places with higher concentrations of people of colour and immigrant populations like New York – see this number rise to a staggering 83.4 percent of every 100,000 live births, or 84,000 mothers.
Nicholas Fisk and Rifat Atun discuss the implications of the pharmaceutical industrial complex in their essay ‘Market Failure and the Poverty of New Drugs in Maternal Health’.
They write, “The pharmaceutical industry’s business model is hefty investment in research and development (R&D), in expectation of high returns from future drug sales during the period of patent protection.” The model has been instrumental in keeping the benefits of medical advancements out of reach of the majority of the world’s population.
“This model, which funds around 50 percent of health care R&D in the United States generates 20-25 new licensed drugs per year, but very few for use in pregnancy,” Fisk and Atun write.
In the U.S., 75 percent of pregnant women take drugs for which safety data is not available. Not a single drug for use during pre-term labour is available.
Add to this AI’s finding that African American mothers in the U.S. are four times as likely to die during pregnancy as their white counterparts and it becomes evident that a system that privatises health care, privileges corporate pharmaceutical interests and places state responsibility in the hands of NGOs or other non-state actors, will only continue to the turn the wheel of inequality in a vicious cycle.
If the free market has failed to regulate the provision of fundamental services in the United States – a country far ahead of its developing peers in areas of individual freedoms, human rights and access to information – experts are sceptical that a similar approach to maternal health in the third world can address the root causes of the problem.
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