A recent study published in eClinicalMedicine as part of a special series on maternal health by the World Health Organization (WHO), highlights the lifelong benefits that women experience when they receive positive health interventions during pregnancy. The research paper examines existing theories of vulnerability in maternal health and emphasizes the impact of reparative strategies on long-term health outcomes, including for future pregnancies.
Led by Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from the University of Birmingham, the team suggests redefining the concept of vulnerability in maternal health. They advocate for a preventive, holistic approach that focuses on the overall well-being of women and girls. This involves proactively identifying vulnerability and developing personalized care plans in maternity settings worldwide.
According to Professor Thangaratinam, reparative strategies can reverse the damages to a mother’s health that occur during pregnancy. These strategies, which can be implemented during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, help women move towards optimal health. Reparative strategies may include personalized care plans in maternity settings, as well as interventions targeting physical, psychological, and social environments.
The series, titled “Maternal health in the perinatal period and beyond,” emphasizes the need for greater attention to the long-term health of women and girls, both before and after pregnancy. The opening paper, published in The Lancet Global Health, argues for a holistic approach to reducing maternal deaths. It suggests addressing not only the immediate biomedical causes but also the broader social, economic, and environmental factors that impact women’s health. These factors include issues such as racial and gender inequities, economic context, nutrition, sanitation, environmental risks, and exposure to violence and conflict.
The series points out that the lack of attention to such fundamental issues is a major reason why 121 out of 185 countries have failed to make significant progress in reducing maternal deaths over the past two decades. Joao Paulo Souza, one of the authors of the first paper and the Centre Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information (BIREME) for PAHO/WHO, emphasizes that maternal health should not be a concern only during pregnancy. He highlights the various factors that influence a woman’s likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy, including her environment, political and economic systems, access to nutritious food, and her level of agency. To improve maternal health, all these factors need to be addressed, in addition to ensuring access to high-quality healthcare throughout a woman’s life.
The series calls for a strong, multidisciplinary health system that not only provides respectful and high-quality maternity services but also focuses on preventing ill health and addressing broader inequities. It stresses the importance of targeted interventions that support the most vulnerable women and girls. By adopting a comprehensive approach, policymakers and healthcare providers can work towards improving maternal health outcomes and ensuring the well-being of women and girls worldwide.