WHO links with Cambodia to tackle maternal deaths

News release

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 16 February 2010—

The new system is built around a situation room in the capital, Phnom Penh, that will track data from around the country and for the first time give health officials full and real-time information on the number of women dying during pregnancy or childbirth, and where those deaths are occurring.

With the new system, coupled with improvements in the health system, the Cambodian Government says it is confident that it can now take steps to bring down the number of maternal deaths and accelerate the country's compliance with Millennium Development Goal 5, which calls for a reduction in maternal deaths by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.

The Maternal Death Surveillance Room will be the nerve centre of a nationwide network. If a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth, the death can be reported by a local health worker, a family member or a village leader, using a mobile telephone to call a toll-free number which will link them either to their district health authority or directly to the Ministry of Health.

All of these reports will be passed for verification to the Maternal Death Surveillance Room, which this way will be able to maintain a comprehensive overview of the national situation. Since over 90% of Cambodian villages now have mobile telephone connectivity, this will be a significant improvement over the present system, where maternal deaths are notified only if the woman dies while under care in a hospital or health centre. Many maternal deaths take place at home or on the way to a hospital or clinic, and so don't show up in the national statistics.

Armed with the new information, authorities will be able to plot weaknesses in the care of pregnant women and strengthen the health system to compensate. All deaths captured by the system will be investigated.

The situation room is located right next to the office of the Cambodian Health Minister, Dr Mam Bun Heng, underlying the Minister's determination to tackle the tragedy of maternal deaths as part of his commitment to the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals.

"The situation room is a significant development for public health in Cambodia," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, who was present at the opening. "If it works the way I'm sure it will, it can be expanded to cover other diseases. Over time, the Cambodian health authorities will have a vital 'map' of the country's health situation."

Dr Shin, who first suggested the situation room to Minister Mam as a simple and effective way to track deaths, said that on his visits to other Member States, health officials had expressed interest in introducing a similar system.

For more information, please call Mr Peter Cordingley, Regional Spokesman, at tel no. +632 528 9991, mobile +63 918 963 0224 or e-mail cordingleyp@wpro.who.int.

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