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Friday, November 16, 2012

Maternal mortality: save some outrage for other Savitas

Most of the Indian media houses that are now making an uproar over the death of Savita Halappanavar, have actually maintained a stoic silence over maternal mortality and unsafe abortion in India all through the year.


For past 2 days, one of the lead news headlines in Indian media has been the death of Savita Halappanavar - a 31-yearold pregnant Indian woman. Savita died in a hospital in Ireland of septicaemia after the doctors refused her abortion, despite having several days’ of severe pain and bleeding. The doctors had their own reason to do that: abortion in the Catholic country is strictly banned.

Now, our media is discussing this a lot; highlighting the rigidity of the Irish law, the religion and the culture and also questioning the actions of the doctors etc etc. Very praiseworthy!

 However, one question that keeps returning to my mind is this: Savita died more than 2 weeks ago, on 28th of October. Why did it take so long for the news to come out?

The answer, according to me, lies in the fact that news of medical malpractice doesn't usually come out on its own, unless we make an active effort to bring it out.

And this is the reason why thousands of women die in India every year after a botched abortion and lack of pre-birth/after birth care, but the media hardly ever gets to know that. The only time when we do know, and talk about the issue is  when some organization or government agency publishes an annual report with a lot of numbers.

This is both sad and ironic, because, unlike Ireland, abortion is legally approved in India. The women of India have the law on their side. And yet, 20% of world's total pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortion related deaths happen in India. If you are looking for numbers, that is 56,000 women in past 1 decade!

And here is the medley of reasons that causes these deaths: ignorance, medical malpractice and inability to timely access healthcare either because of poverty or because of shame, fear, stigma and cultural practices .

So, where are the stories in the media?

Now, for my own research, I have been aggregating news on a few issues including maternal mortality. Sadly, in entire 2012, only 37 original news stories have come out on the issue and over 75% of them were published by Hindu and the Times of India groups of publications alone.

And, here is most ridiculous fact: there was just 1 news story (published in Times of India) directly focused on unsafe abortion. Yes, just one.  

Is this not pathetic, considering the extremely high rate of death that prevails? Also, isn’t it appalling considering the enormous size of our media industry?

So, as we very rightly report on Savita’s untimely and unjustly death, let us remember that there are so, so many Savitas that die in silence right at home. Let us save some outrage and shock for them too.

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