Women are dying needlessly during pregnancy and childbirth because discrimination prevents them from accessing sexual and reproductive health services, leaving them unable to make key decisions on their pregnancies, Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday.
Every year in Burkina Faso more than 2,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, according to government figures. Amnesty International's report Giving Life, Risking Death finds that many of these deaths could have been easily prevented if women were given access on time to adequate health care.
"Every woman has the right to life and the right to adequate healthcare, and the government should redouble its efforts to address preventable maternal death," said Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Women in Burkina Faso are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination which makes giving birth potentially lethal."
Most women in Burkina Faso are subordinate to the men in their lives with little or no control over key decisions such as when to seek medical care and the timing and spacing of their pregnancies in spite of having equal status under Burkinabe law. Women and girls continue to be subjected to early marriages and female genital mutilation.
The Burkina Faso government, with the help of the donor community, has developed ambitious strategies that have lowered maternal death rates in some parts of the country. However these are undermined by failures in implementation and a lack of accountability that allows medical personnel to get away with abuses, such as illegal demands for payments.
Poverty is a key contributing factor in preventable maternal death, particularly for impoverished women living in rural areas who face both financial and geographical obstacles to accessing healthcare.
In 2006, the Burkinabe government introduced a policy to subsidize 80 per cent of the cost of childbirth and making it completely free for the most impoverished women. However this policy is not well publicised leaving it open to exploitation by corrupt medical staff. Criteria have not been elaborated to establish who qualifies for subsidized care so costs continue to act as a barrier in accessing medical care.
The Amnesty International report says that unequal access to adequate health facilities especially in rural areas; shortages of medical supplies and trained personnel and negative or discriminatory attitudes of health workers are also preventing women from seeking care.
"Maternal death is a tragedy that robs thousands of families of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters each year," said Claudio Cordone. "So long as women are not allowed control over their own bodies, they will continue to die in their thousands."
The authorities have responded to the report which was sent to them in advance by welcoming "the meticulous and important" work done by Amnesty International, while stressing that the cases of misbehaviour by medical personnel were "isolated" and reiterating the authorities' commitment to address the problem of maternal mortality in the country.
Amnesty International has called on the government to expand and improve access to family planning services, to remove financial barriers to maternal healthcare services, to ensure an even distribution of health facilities and trained staff across the country and to set up a well-publicized and accessible accountability mechanism to help combat corruption and mismanagement.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 177 out of 182 countries in the United Nations Development Programme's 2009 Human Development Report.
Between January 28 and February 9 a campaign caravan will tour Burkina Faso spreading news of Amnesty International's campaign to end maternal mortality in the country and providing information to stimulate debate.
Between 10 and 13 February the interim Secretary General of Amnesty International will meet with the country's top authorities to share the outcome of the caravan and discuss government plans to address maternal mortality.
The campaign to end maternal mortality in Burkina Faso is a part of Amnesty International's Demand Dignity campaign launched in May 2009.
In September 2009 Amnesty International launched a campaign to end maternal mortality and a campaign caravan in Sierra Leone.