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Abortion a leading cause of maternal death

The road to recovery for survivors of Cyclone Nargis will be a long one Stacey Winston/ECHO
In Myanmar, where abortions are illegal, complications arising from unsafe terminations are the third leading cause of maternal deaths after post-partum haemorrhage and eclampsia, according to the government's 2006-2011 National Health Plan.

The latest survey by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Department of Health in 2005 shows that Myanmar's maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is persistently high at 316 per 100,000 live births. Nearly 10 percent of all maternal deaths are abortion-related.

Pansy Tun Thein, assistant representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Myanmar, said the government recognised that abortion-related deaths were one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

"The government is currently promoting the reduction of maternal mortality. It's high on their agenda and abortion is one of the issues being addressed through improved quality services for maternal health," she told IRIN.

Some gains

The government's 2006-2011 National Health Plan lists addressing abortion as a priority.

While data remains grim, there have been gains over the past two decades, when unsafe abortions were considered the leading cause of maternal mortality, according to the World Health Organization.

Two women in front of Central Women's Hospital in Yangon
Photo: Mon Mon Myat/IRIN
Two women in front of the Central Women's Hospital in Yangon
As part of efforts to address reproductive health issues, the government is undertaking several activities, including research and advocacy, and has made birth spacing methods publicly available since 1991.

One initiative is a reproductive health information telephone hotline set up last year in the Department of Medical Research.

Ko Ko Zaw, research scientist for the project, said birth spacing was the second most asked about topic after infertility. He said 20 percent of callers were between the ages of 15-24, who mostly asked about birth spacing.

"It is good if we can provide information which can prevent the problem of unwanted pregnancy, because it's important in reducing MMR," he told IRIN.

Contraceptive use growing

In Myanmar, there is almost universal knowledge of at least one modern method of contraception, although usage varies widely according to where women live and their level of education.

The 2007 Fertility and Reproductive Health Survey (FRHS), released in October 2009 and conducted by the Department of Population and UN Population Fund (UNFPA), found increased use of contraception among married women, although figures were still relatively low.

Single women were not included in the survey questions on contraception use, since pre-marital sex is discouraged and considered a sensitive issue.

The survey found the proportion of married women who use modern contraceptive methods increased from 32 percent in 2001 to 38.4 percent in 2007. In urban areas, 49 percent of married women use modern contraception, compared with only 34 percent of rural women. Modern contraceptives such as the birth control pill are also more widely available and easier to access in urban areas. About 70 percent of the country's population of about 57.5 million is rural.

The survey also found that 17.7 percent of married women had an unmet need for contraception for either preventing or spacing births.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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