Maternal Deaths Quadruple in South Africa


A disturbing new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) declares that maternal care in South Africa is “failing.”  According to the report, the maternal mortality in South Africa has quadrupled over the past decade, signaling the need for deep structural changes to the country’s healthcare system.

Documenting abuse by maternal health workers, substandard care, inefficiencies and corruption, HRW called for greater accountability but expressed skepticism about South Africa’s ability to meet its goal of reducing the maternal death rate if serious steps are not taken.

Field research for the report was conducted between August 2010 and April 2011, among “maternity patients, families, community caregivers, health and human rights experts, health workers, government officials, and representatives of donor and international agencies.”

The findings were stark.  Women reported being slapped and handled roughly during labor; some were left unattended for long periods during delivery, and others were denied admission, even when they were clearly in labor.  Some were ridiculed and taunted about enjoying sex, or scolded for becoming pregnant while HIV positive.  Some hospitals had no soap, disinfectant or toilet paper.  These hospitals are being investigated for the deaths of 29 babies last January.

These allegations are particularly serious because 87% of deliveries take place in government facilities.  Some women, however, said that they were actively avoiding government hospitals and clinics because of rumors about abuse and poor care.  Filing complaints didn’t seem to be an option; many women feared retribution, and nurses said that they were working under such difficult conditions that it was impossible to process complaints even if they were lodged.

The women’s stories are horrifying.  ”The nurses swore at me and insulted me,” one woman said. “Now you are saying you are sick and next year you will come with another pregnancy. This is not a place to enjoy or be on holiday.”  The same woman was told to clean up her “mess” when she bled on the floor.

Clearly, there are systemic changes that need to occur before women can give birth safely in South Africa.  Perhaps the UN’s call for more and better-trained midwives should be something that the South Africa government considers.

Related Stories:

UN Calls For More, Better-Trained Midwives

State of the World’s Mothers

It’s Safer to Give Birth in Bosnia Than in California

Photo from o5com via flickr.


Helen Strong
Helen Strong6 years ago

As a South African I hand my head in shame for the lack of resources, but moreso for all the unethical nurses who are contributing to the increase in maternal deaths. They are supposed to be part of a caring profession and can treat patients like this! The upper echelon of our society get criticised for going into private care, but can one blame them when the public hospitals are like this?

Manuela B.
Manuela B6 years ago

I think now alot of women who thought they had it tough are reconsidering.....

Sulette Matthee
Sulette Botha6 years ago

This article is absolutely true in every way. A year ago my sister went into labour. When we got to the government hospital, the staff were on a 'tea break' and refused to help us. 30 minutes later, I begged them to help us. The nurse got up and called me a 'white b*tch who must wait until they are finished'. My friend didnt have a bed to lay on. The only available one was dirty and full of blood. Luckily we had some clean blankets in the car. And I had to clean the bed, because it was 'not her (the nurses) job'. When they FINALLY examined her, she was fully dilated. THEN, they went off about us not getting there earlier. I was like Wtf, you were on your tea break while we were trying to get help! My nephew was born 2 and a half months too early. There were about 8 incubators, none in working condition! That one trip to the hospital made me realise that you are actually lucky to be alive when you leave that place.

Warren Friedman
Warren Friedman6 years ago

This is the direct result of the ANC's sheer incompetency and rascist (anti-white) deployment of their members to management positions in state hospitals. The horror that is our public health system is an outrage. It's no wonder the South African Ministers of Health only use private health facilities.

Deborah Weinischke
Deborah H6 years ago

I perceive the problems being related to STUPID RELIGIONS prohibiting birth control as well as to the mess created by ineffective government. As tragic as it may seem, with all the problems in the world, it may be that those who die are the fortunate ones. There are worse things than death.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran6 years ago

Birth control is readily and freely available in South Africa. Condoms, contraceptives and even abortion (which is legal here) is free at hospitals and clinics. All you have to do is go to the hospital or clinic.

Condoms are also available for free in many office and public toilets.

People choose not to use birth control.

That said, in general, the state run hospitals cannot cope with the sheer number of the population. Another contributing factor to the high death rate is the negligence of doctors and nurses.

Over the weekend I met a guy who told me his sister-in-law was expecting twins. She went for a C-Section and when she woke up they handed her a baby. She asked where the other one was and that's when they realised they made a mistake and took her back to the OR for another C-Section.

She died 6 months later.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Lets look at womens' right first and and the issues of access to birth control before we start the maternal mortality thing!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons6 years ago

they need more birth control and also better health care.

Dawid Blyth
David B6 years ago

This situation is due to the ANC regime's mismanagement and corruption. One needs only to look at the extravagant life-styles of the connected elite to see where the funds are going.
Even during the previous regime, all people could depend on government hospitals, the politicians as well. Now the new politicians go to private hospitals.
Public education has also deteriorated under the regime's hand.

Chloe S.
Chloe S.6 years ago

HIV positive singles face very difficult challenges when it comes to dating. They have to either date someone with HIV or disclose their HIV status. Disclosing to someone that's HIV- is a terrifying task and finding someone else with HIV. helps you Dating and Finding Love for HIV Positive Singles.