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    Reducing Maternal Deaths: China’s efforts since the 1950s

    By Shivani Singh, on 21 June 2011

    China’s health policies have often garnered international attention – today we look at a success story, reducing the rate of maternal death from the 1950s to today.

    ‘Reducing Maternal Deaths: China’s efforts since the 1950s’, was held on June 15 at UCL’s Cruciform Building. The session featured three academics: Dr Vivienne Lo of UCL, Professor Lucy Chen of Peking University and Professor Therese Hesketh of UCL.  Dr Lo gave a presentation on the new interdisciplinary and multi-institutional UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity. A collaboration primarily between UCL and SOAS, the partnership aims to bring together scholars working on China-related topics.

    Visiting from China, Professor Lucy Chen is the Executive Deputy Director of the Institute for Global Health at Peking University. Her lecture focused on China’s achievements in reducing maternal death from the 1950’s to the present day. China’s health policies are often under scrutiny, however over a sixty year period China has made great strides in reducing maternal death through policy-making that focused on using resources as effectively as possible.

    Two decisions which were shown to be particularly effective were raising the number of trained birth attendants, and partnerships between urban and rural communities. When two communities with an imbalance of resources are paired, doctors and practitioners from the more developed urban region then travelled to the rural area to ensure increased health access for women.

    Professor Hesketh of the Centre for International Health and Development followed in a similar vein of discussion by analyzing trends in maternal and child health in China and India. I found one slide in particular very interesting, the contrast between health and GDP in China. Both China and India have been praised for their strong GDP growth rates, growth which is set to push these states into the realm of becoming world superpowers. However, when the GDP per capita is looked at, China falls into the league of small underdeveloped states.

    Additionally, Professor Hesketh also drew attention to the imbalanced sex ratio of both China and India. The amalgamation of having a son preference, low fertility rate and access to abortion has led to a heavily skewed birth rate. In some villages the rate was as dramatic as 109:100 boys to girl (India) and 118:100 boys to girls (China).  In such studies the emphasis is usually on the number of girls missing from society; however Professor Hesketh took another approach and looked at the impact on men in society when there is a shortage of women. Some very interesting preliminary studies are showing that with heavy pressure to wed and a shortage of women there have been reports of depression and isolation amongst rural men who are unable to find brides.

    There was quite a bit of material covered in the lectures, ranging from the Millennium Development Goals, sex ratios, policy making and societal impacts. It was refreshing to attend a lecture where the subject matter was how policies have succeeded in the past and with the creation of the new UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity I feel we can expect further discourse on these subjects in the future.

    Image: Dr Vivienne Lo by Teddy Hla of UCLU PhotoSoc on Flickr. All rights reserved.

    See more images of the speakers on the UCLU PhotoSoc Flickr account.