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Prioritise mother and child

There is something desperately wrong in a country when maternal and child mortality rates are heading in the opposite direction to per capita income. Logic would suggest that greater income would support better health care. However, this is not the case in Trinidad and Tobago. While there are many questions hanging over the variety of statistics compiled by the Central Statistical Office and medical institutions, public and private, the experts agree that mortality rates, both maternal and infant, are on the rise in T&T. Some authorities place maternal deaths in the 50s, others in the 60-70 range per 100,000 women.

This worrying situation has been thrown into bold relief by the death of yet another young mother. The circumstances under which Sasha Bisnath, 28, died on Friday following the delivery of her daughter Siara by C-section the day before, has pushed this issue back into the spotlight.

In October, Unicef's representative for the Eastern Caribbean, Khin Sandi Lwin, expressed open concern about the rising rate of both maternal and infant mortality rates in this country and disclosed that a Cabinet committee had been established to investigate the increased incidence of infant mortality. She hoped then, that the committee would expand its work to include an investigation into the root causes of the increase in the maternal mortality rate.

Ms Lwin noted then that in 1960,Trinidad and Tobago had the lowest mortality rate for babies under five years old of all countries in the region. Since then, she said, while the other countries have significantly reduced their rates, Trinidad and Tobago now has the highest mortality rates among children under age five.

While Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan acknowledged the statistics, he challenged the methodology regarding T&T's infant mortality rate. He did, however, agree that there was cause for concern regarding maternal mortality, especially in South Trinidad.

Tragically, Sasha Bisnath has now become another statistic, leaving behind two little girls, one a four-day-old newborn and the other, a two-year-old toddler.

This is one death too many. The circumstances under which this young mother died after developing post-delivery complications at a private nursing home cries out for answers. Maternal death can be caused by a number of factors along a broad spectrum, including medical error and the condition of the mother's health. Ms Bisnath's family is entitled to a clear, unambiguous explanation of the truth. If medical negligence was involved, justice must be done. If there is some other explanation, it needs to form part of a public education process that will help us understand the risks associated with certain conditions.

The Health Minister needs to update the county on his findings regarding both infant and maternal mortality.

With our minds turning to the Christmas story and the birth of Baby Jesus, today is a good time to put the health and well-being of our mothers and babies at the very top of our list of priorities.

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