Maternity deaths and unanswered questions

TN News

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In just two weeks, six women died after going into labor across Vietnam.

Four of the babies died as well.

Families have accused doctors of negligence, incompetence and worse, while hospitals have claimed the women suffered unexpected complications during their deliveries. The cases are being investigated.

It is understandable that the public is concerned, especially about the competence of doctors. They also wonder if there are more cases than those that have been reported?

It is a pity that the Vietnamese health sector is yet to conduct any survey on this issue.

The "latest" statistics have come from the United Nations Population Fund in 2007. According to the unofficial report, every day, seven women die due to pregnancy-related complications in Vietnam, and that the number could be higher because many cases might not be reported.

In fact, whenever deadly complications happen, the most common response at obstetrics hospitals, including major ones in cities, is try to hide information and negotiate with the patient's family to handle it in a "silent" way.

If the family refuses the offer, and seeks help from agencies and the media, the hospitals attempt to calm down the public by any means.

A doctor from a public hospital said that most of the fatal cases are treated "smartly" so the information is not leaked and the hospitals' reputation is intact.

Even within the hospital, the deadly complication cases are not discussed and analyzed openly. For example, at the Ho Chi Minh City-based Hung Vuong Hospital, only fatal cases that are not related to human errors are discussed at meetings. Meanwhile, those that happen because of some kind of wrongdoing are "discussed" by the crew in charge of the shifts during which the cases happen, the doctor said.

A similar, somewhat cavalier attitude prevails at health clinics in districts and communes.

In theory, programs are designed to supervise women's health during their pregnancy and until their delivery for free. This happens rarely because people barely trust the health system at communes and wards.

A midwife said: "It's difficult to approach and encourage pregnant women to take health checks-up and have their pregnancy observed. All the statistics related to the supervision of pregnant women's health are fake. If we make truthful reports, our achievements will be affected."

Do we need to say more? Isn't it time that the Health Ministry conducts detailed studies on pregnancy-related mortality and prepares plans to prevent it in right earnest?

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