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Maternal mortality on the rise in SL

Maternal mortality is on the rise in Sri Lanka, with close to 40 deaths per 100,000 live births being recorded, Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) Secretary Dr. Kapila Jayaratne said.

Speaking at the Annual Academic Sessions of the SLMA held in Colombo last week, Dr. Senaratne highlighted the cost of unplanned pregnancies, in a discussion facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“Each year, about 360,000 women become pregnant. One out of three pregnancies is an unplanned pregnancy that might cause mental stress and high costs for the mothers and the families,” he said.

Of the 326,000 live births recorded in 2017, said Dr. Senaratne, some 49,000 (15%) of the mothers were over 35 years of age. A total of 127 maternal deaths were recorded that year. Out of these maternal deaths, the UNFPA said in a statement, 28 mothers died due to the consequences of having an unplanned pregnancy. In this same year, the number of stillbirths reported was 1,770.

Quoting a 2016 survey carried out by the Demographic and Health Survey, the UNFPA said 35% of married women in Sri Lanka do not use contraception, and teenage pregnancies are at a rate of 4.6% with sub-national disparities of 5-8%.

“Integrating family planning services into maternal health services can help prevent maternal deaths. The 2015 National Guidelines on Post-abortion care further highlights that unsafe abortions make 10-13% of maternal deaths in Sri Lanka,” the organisation said in its statement.

Noting that efficient family planning is a medical recommendation to prevent unplanned pregnancies, the UNFPA said myths and misconceptions exist in Sri Lanka regarding the different methods including contraception, and the medical objective of family planning is often misinterpreted.

“This is why it is of utmost importance that policymakers are privy to the perceptions of key stakeholders regarding family planning services,” it said.

The UN agency went on to say that Sri Lanka witnessed communal violence triggered by myths and misconceptions around family planning. 

“This indicates a lack of knowledge among individuals on the critical role that family planning plays in the prevention of unintended pregnancies, reducing maternal deaths and in achieving universal health coverage,” it added.

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In 1994 in Cairo at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 governments – including Sri Lanka – agreed that sexual and reproductive health and women’s empowerment are intertwined, and are at the heart of sustainable development, the UNFPA said, adding that every woman has the basic human right to decide whether, when and with whom to have children.

UNFPA Sri Lanka Assistant Representative Madusha Dissanayake who also spoke at the event stressed on the importance of educating young people on reproductive health.

“Family planning saves lives. It can prevent unwanted pregnancies and avert unsafe abortions. Most young people in Sri Lanka are sexually active and they should not be prevented from accessing sexual and reproductive health services due to stigma. We have to ensure every young person in Sri Lanka has the knowledge required to make safe and informed choices about their bodies,” the UNFPA statement quoted her as saying.

SLMA President Dr. Anula Wijesundere, meanwhile, noted: “There are many misconceptions around family planning. It must be understood that it is not about population control. Family planning is about empowering women and giving them the choice to take control of their own sexual and reproductive health. Family planning enables women to complete their education and pursue careers, thereby contributing towards a progressive and sustainably developed Sri Lanka”.

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