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New efforts made to promote maternal health in Laos

Despite new efforts to bring Western medicine to the women of Laos, some experts believe these attempts will fall on deaf ears, as most women there are unaccustomed to visiting health workers, IRIN reports.

Recently, 140 midwives graduated in Laos. This was the highest number of graduates in more than 20 years, however only 34 percent of women in the nation go to doctors or medical professionals in times of emergency, and even fewer go when they are pregnant, according to government data from 2009-2010.

Humanitarian groups believe these newly-educated midwives may have a difficult time using their skills to help lower the high maternal and infant mortality rates. Maternal mortality was 405 deaths per 100,000 live births and infant mortality was 70 deaths per 1,000 in 2005. This is the most recent data available, according to the source.

Many people avoid hospital settings because the majority of Lao residents were raised in rural environments and are used to less advanced forms of healthcare. Most women deliver their babies at home, with no help, which has led to complications that could have been avoided if they had sought out medical attention. Lack of transportation to health clinics is another reason behind the high mortality rates.

To combat this and make midwives more present in the communities, the new midwives have been traveling during an eight-week community placement, going door-to-door to expose their expertise. This is a great step forward, but challenges - including well-intended traditional advice to bear children at home - must still be overcome.
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