Some good news arrived for women who are concerned about abusive hospital treatment during childbirth. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a statement that addresses abuse and disrespect during hospital childbirth. The WHO statement reads:
Every woman has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to dignified, respectful health care. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/134588/1/WHO_RHR_14.23_eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1
WHO outlines the issue:
A growing body of research on women’s experiences during pregnancy, and particularly childbirth, paints a disturbing picture . . . Reports of disrespectful and abusive treatment during childbirth in facilities have included outright physical abuse, profound humiliation and verbal abuse, coercive or unconsented medical procedures (including sterilization), lack of confidentiality, failure to get fully informed consent, refusal to give pain medication, gross violations of privacy, refusal of admission to health facilities, neglecting women during childbirth to suffer life-threatening, avoidable complications, and detention of women and their newborns in facilities after childbirth due to an inability to pay (WHO).
Other abuses not specified by WHO include:
- Women being coerced (and sometimes mandated by law) into unwanted cesarean surgery http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/07/25/florida-hospital-demands-woman-undergo-forced-c-section/
- Unwanted vaginal exams http://www.improvingbirth.org/2014/07/trauma/
- Episiotomy done without consent (cutting of the vagina) http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/what-you-dont-know-about-episiotomies-can-hurt-you/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1
It’s gratifying to see WHO advocating for better treatment and for giving recognition to the abuse, but . . . hasn’t this type of abuse been occurring for many years?
Why has nothing been done until now?
One reason why nothing has been done until now could simply be ignorance of the extent of the abuse. Fortunately, research, social media and women coming together to form a united force have been remarkably effective in raising awareness. There are many sites and Facebook pages that have helped to get the word out, like this one: http://www.improvingbirth.org/ and this one: https://www.facebook.com/birthmonopoly
Raised awareness about the climbing rate of infant mortality may have also been a factor in gaining WHO’s attention. The infant mortality rate is worse in the United States than it is in many other countries. More babies are dying before they turn one year old in the United States than in most of Europe and several other developed countries. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-infant-mortality-rate-worse-than-other-countries/
It could also be that women are making an impact with their choices. More women are avoiding the hospital and are choosing to give birth at home.
Top 5 reasons for inpatient surgeries in 2012–2013:
C-section delivery: 100,686 surgeries
Knee replacement: 57,829 surgeries
Hip replacement: 47,297 surgeries
Hysterectomy: 40,127 surgeries
Coronary artery dilation: 40,074 surgeries
Top 5 reasons for inpatient hospitalizations in 2012–2013:
Giving birth: 369,454 hospitalizations
Respiratory disease: 76,705 hospitalizations
Heart attack: 68,835 hospitalizations
Pneumonia: 60,077 hospitalizations
Heart failure: 56,260 hospitalizations (Canadian data. Note the numbers of total birth hospitalizations: 369,454 and number of C-sections: 100,686)
Regardless of the reason for WHO’s lack of involvement in the past and for their interest now, it’s wonderful to see abuse during childbirth formally recognized as an ‘issue’. And recognized as one that needs fixing.
Now, how about other issues in women’s health care? There are a few others that come to mind in need of some fixing too . . .