It is a sad fact that the number of vulnerable pregnant women is growing in every country of the European Union and unless urgent action is taken, women will continue to die unnecessarily.
This was an important topic of discussion during this year’s Women Political Leaders (WPL) Summit. Held earlier this month in Vilnius, Lithuania, the event brought together female Heads of State and Government, Ministers, Parliamentarians and Mayors from all over the world, and provided a forum for female political leaders to exchange best practices and knowledge sharing on political decision-making.
As a proud mother of two and a dedicated ambassador for the MSD for Mothers programme, I was especially excited to be moderating a panel discussion on the importance of equitable and universal maternal healthcare in the EU. During the panel, we released new findings of a 2018 WPL research study on access to maternal healthcare in the EU28. The research uncovers how our healthcare systems are not being tailored to meet the needs of the many women in Europe who come from vulnerable backgrounds and minority groups. In many countries, their needs are not even recognised.
At the same time, despite the growing number of reported instances of migrant women giving birth in Europe in very difficult circumstances with little professional assistance, we continue to have virtually no information about the outcomes of pregnancy for these and other vulnerable women and their babies. It’s likely that the figures we do have are significantly underreported and no useful data is currently being gathered to assess and address them.
The study also highlights that Europe is facing increasing rates of mortality amongst mothers and babies from vulnerable backgrounds as these groups struggle to gain equal access to primary health care and maternal care in countries across Europe. According to the results, these women tend to be less likely to seek maternal health care (including sexual, reproductive, pre and antenatal care) because they fear being reported, arrested and denied medical care.
In addition, many countries lack specific plans for action on migrant health. Unfortunately, there is no common EU-level health policy across all countries. And until there is, there will be gaps between different national healthcare systems. And women, mothers-to-be, are falling through these gaps. This shouldn’t happen.
When I look at my own family, I see the freedom and opportunity my daughters have to develop themselves in different ways, and to make their own decisions. This of course includes decisions about healthcare. But globally speaking, my daughters are the exception, not the rule.
Only by recognising the importance of care for vulnerable pregnant women will we prevent mothers from dying in the future, and prevent a widening of the health gap between women from different cultural, ethnic, geographic and national backgrounds.
It will take all of us to change this.
Governments, NGOs, civil society, healthcare professionals and private sector companies such as MSD need to continue to work together to implement recommendations outlined in our most recent study, as well as critical policy recommendations developed by Doctors of the World Greece in 2017, aimed at ensuring equal access to vital maternal healthcare for vulnerable refugee women across Europe.
This includes restoring women’s trust in health services and ensuring that accessing maternal healthcare does not threaten the ability of vulnerable women to remain in a country due to their immigration status when care is sought. We also need enhanced training for health professionals across Europe in delivering culturally sensitive care and addressing the significant shortage of comprehensive and reliable data on maternal health.
No women should die giving life. Every mother deserves good care before, during and post pregnancy. We must work together to ensure their residential status, cultural background and financial means do not affect this basic right.
I truly hope that by raising awareness and working together, we can make a real change and this issue will not persist in the generations to come.
Gabriele Grom is the Associate Vice President for MSD for the Central Eastern Europe (CEE) Cluster, successfully leading a 100 million population region with a strong MSD footprint of ~1.500 MSD employees across different divisions. At MSD, she served in different marketing and sales positions before joining in 2004 the global marketing organization in the United States. Returning to Europe in 2007, Gabriele became the Managing Director of MSD Hungary. She returned to Austria in 2009, and led the local organization and was appointed to lead the CEE cluster in 2014. She currently serves as Chair of the Supervisory Board of MSD in Germany as well as a member of the advisory board of a Business School in Germany. Gabriele also acts as Executive Ambassador for MSD for Mothers. Gabriele earned her degree in pharmacy from the University of Tübingen/Germany and currently lives in Austria.
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