Penny Haora travelled to India to present her work on motherhood in Thailand
Along with three colleagues from NCEPH, I attended the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights in Hyderabad, India Oct 29th-31st. I received grant funding from the Vice Chancellor’s Travel Grant, and from the Peter Baume Travel Grant.
921 abstracts were received from 42 countries, with 343 accepted as poster and oral presentations (including 10 submitted and accepted from Australia). I presented 2 posters
- Normal Birth under Threat: Caesarean Section in Thailand: The New Epidemic?
- MDGs, MMRs, and Measuring Maternal Mortality and Morbidity in Thailand.
They both generated interesting and useful discussions with attendees, including demand and supply issues in relation to the increasing caesarean section rate.
I particularly enjoyed the plenary session by Prof Lynn Freedman (Director, Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University), who spoke on the topic: "Human rights and health systems: Where elegant theory meets 'messy' practice". She spoke about a 'fundamental shift' required 'in how we understand and address health systems - from technical delivery mechanisms to core social institutions…' She also said that human rights practice requires us to identify the workings of power that maintain the status quo and keep unacceptable things as they are. She advocated for a different vision of health and well-being, to call for the re-arrangement of power necessary for change… I was interested to note that Indonesia has embarked on a process to do just that, explained by the Director of Mother's Health at the MOH. They examined the top 10 priority issues in maternal and newborn health by a stakeholder-inclusive process, and format which reviews the issues in terms of (i) health related considerations, (ii) human rights considerations, and (iii) recommendations for priority actions. Another Professor in this plenary - Dr Rashidah Shuib (Director, Women's Development Research Centre, Universiti Sains, Malaysia) - stated that the rights-base underlying the WHO definition of health is "still not well understood", but that we now understand the "limitations of the biomedical model", and she proposed that we "make countries bound legally to enable reproductive rights…".
There was a practical Satellite Session on "skills and tools for implementing sexual and reproductive health in crisis situations (supported by UNFPA, IPPF and UNSW). The report back from the "Women Deliver: Making women's lives safer" conference recently held in London was rather disappointing in several ways. Firstly, but not surprisingly, achieving the MDG goal for improving maternal health (in fact, reducing maternal mortality) (Goal 5) has progressed all too slowly in many parts of the developing world, and secondly, that the focus of 'improving maternal health' is still so embedded in medical treatments and mortality ie "not dead = healthy".
Attending the conference was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues, and reacquaint with previous ones. The information received and discussions held were both useful. Papers presented by my colleagues also generated interested discussions, and I really enjoyed the South Indian food!