By Salman Ahmad

PESHAWAR, 16 July:According to Pakistan’s Demographic Health Survey 2013, every eleventh child dies before reaching the age of five, and 25 out of 1000 newborns die at birth.

According to Health experts, apart from a lack of proper healthcare services in public sector hospitals and other medical facilities, social taboos also contribute to the higher mortality rates.

“Majority of newborns die due to lack of adequate healthcare facilities and carelessness of the family,” says Dr. Saima, a gynecologist at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).

“Many pregnant women do not come for regular checkups. They also do not get important vaccinations during their pregnancy. They usually only come to the hospital once the matter gets serious,” Dr. Saima continues. “They don’t even know whether they would need surgery or have a normal delivery.”

Many conservative families consider it a taboo for a woman to give birth outside her home. According to health experts, this is one of the major causes for the high mortality rate among newborns.

Nowshera’s Janat Bibi had never been hospitalized for any of her previous twelve deliveries. It was only when she gave birth to a stillborn that she was referred to a major health facility by a midwife.

Six of her children died before reaching the age of five. “My children died between the ages of two and three years. They would grow to be good-looking, start walking and talking, but all of sudden they died,” she recalls.

There are approximately 786 basic health units all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). These units are mostly established in peripheries and rural areas. Many of these basic health units are neither fully equipped nor have sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

Furthermore, lady health visitors appointed in these units exclusively for the healthcare of mothers and newborns are not available all the time.

Midwives have an important role to play in countering this social taboo.

Dil Raj, a midwife in Mardan, says women are not encouraged to go to hospitals for childbirth. “Usually pregnant women are not allowed to deliver their baby in a hospital by their husbands and mothers in law. They consider it a taboo and a social stigma,” Dil Raj says. “I usually confront people who want me to manage the delivery within their homes. Instead, I convince them to come to my home where I have all the necessary equipment,” Raj tells TNN. “I am trained to perform normal delivery and what to do in case of any emergency.”

Health experts suggest that the mortality rate can be reduced by increasing the number of trained staff at these health units and by launching awareness campaigns to educate people on the importance of healthcare for mothers and newborns.