Assam Government departments hold inter-sectoral meet to address maternal mortality

District Health Society, Nagaon with support from UNICEF Assam organized an inter-sectoral consultation for maternal well-being in the district on Thursday, January 28. The consultation focused on understanding the causes that lead to maternal deaths and addressing the gaps through concerted and coordinated actions through a multi-sectoral response by the administration.

The consultation was the first of its kind in the entire country and saw representation from state & district level officials from Departments of Social Welfare, PHED, PWD Roads, Education, Rural Development, Health, Tea Garden, Child protection cell, etc.

Maternal mortality remains an area of significant concern although progress has been made in reducing the number of deaths across the country. Reducing the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) continues to be a priority for Assam which has one of the highest MMR figures at 300 per 100,000 live births compared to the national average of 167 deaths per 100,000 (SRS estimates 2011-13). MMR for North Assam districts including Nagaon is 251 maternal deaths per lakh live births. 

The medical causes of maternal deaths are well defined, however there are underlying factors such as early marriage, adolescent pregnancies, lower literacy level among females, low nutritional status of mothers, high prevalence of anaemia, poor sanitation conditions, etc. which contribute to high rates of maternal mortality. Addressing these root causes require longer-term planning and also require support and planning from sectors other than health.

The Nagaon consultation, organized under the leadership of Deputy Commissioner, Monalisa Goswami, focused on inter-sectoral coordination and planning to address maternal mortality in the district. Monalisa Goswami in her welcome speech shared the objective of the workshop and urged all sectors to think about their possible role in improving health situation. She said, ‘the objective of the workshop is to sensitise different stakeholders on maternal health issues and facilitate discussion to develop better understanding on the roles of different Government stakeholders in improving maternal well-being’.

Dr. Malalay Ahmadzai, Lead-Maternal Health, UNICEF India, shared success stories from countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh & Sweden which have achieved improved maternal health indicators through better roads, better-quality education among women and girls, empowerment of women and availability of financial support to families. She stressed that this was achieved through improved coordination and collaboration amongst different Government Departments in the above countries.

Dr Tushar Rane, Chief, UNICEF Assam congratulated the District Administration Nagaon for leading the fight against maternal deaths. He stressed on the need for strong leadership, multi-sectoral plans and collaboration; and investments in cost effective strategies for health and well-being for achieving results. He stressed that this is an opportune moment for convergence as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also focus on the same for achieving desired goals for women and children.

Dr. Manisha Chawla, Health Specialist, Assam in her presentation shared the state’s progress on maternal health. She also shared summary of maternal death case-studies from Assam and discussed how each of the sectors is associated with maternal well-being especially child marriage, nutritional status, education status, water & sanitation status in health facilities etc. Following Dr. Chawla’s presentation, officials from various Government departments outlined the roles and responsibilities of their respective sectors in prioritizing maternal well-being.

The day-long consultation ended with a pledge ceremony where all stakeholders reiterated their commitment to improving maternal health in the district.