Petra De Sutter is a gynaecologist, and professor in reproductive medicine at Ghent University (Belgium) and also a politician. She is member of the Belgian Senate and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where she is active in the committee of migration and in the committee of social affairs. She also is vice-chair of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.
According to De Sutter, inequality of care can often be due to a lack of information. Society is failing to educate vulnerable groups and give them the information they need to have a safe and positive pregnancy experience, she says.
One of Safe Motherhood Week’s themes is that of information, or lack thereof, or even the ability to navigate the information that exists. De Sutter sees this as a major problem.
“Barriers are a major thing because we have the best possible care, but not equal access,” she explains.
“We really need to educate people and tell them in schools the things they need to know about sexual reproduction and that will in turn lead to better healthcare and maternal healthcare, safe motherhood. We need education for telling people how things are and how it can be managed – safe pregnancy starts before conception; things like smoking and other lifestyle issues that will affect foetal health, these need to be addressed before pregnancy. Once a woman is pregnant it is already too late, there are optimal conditions for pregnancy before pregnancy occurs. We need good education, we need awareness; good preparation for pregnancy is such a huge thing it should not be blocked by any ideological barriers.
Reaching vulnerable groups and proving them with accurate information regarding pregnancy and family planning can be hugely difficult, De Sutter adds.
“There is a political responsibility here; Governments, lawmakers etc., should really focus on these vulnerable groups. Again, it’s just about education and reaching out to these groups, but what you often see is a lot of good initiatives in isolation.”
She gives an example: “We started a preconception consultation in our own hospital, we wanted to educate woman to be healthier when they want to be pregnant, we did a lot of PR to make this known. But what we saw was that we only got very highly educated woman who were having problems conceiving, we had targeted the wrong demographic. This was not acceptable and we could not continue. We have to think about what the reasons are we did not reach the women we wanted to reach… if you want to reach migrant women, you have to go to their communities and listen to their stories and what their needs are, you have to tell them and educate them, talk their language. You just can’t open some consultation session somewhere, they will not come. We need to invest money to reach to their groups who do not have access, in reality they could have come because it was free, but we did not reach them because we did not go to them to seek them out, for them to understand how important it was.
“Surveys on the internet are interesting but you will only target people that know how to work the internet… lots of people who aren’t educated enough to use the internet and these are the ones who we really need to reach by going to their communities. It is not easy but this should be our focus.”
Safe motherhood is a matter of human rights, concluded De Sutter.
“In our fight for sexual and reproductive health and rights, it is one of the most basic and important issues. Access to high quality pregnancy and childbirth care, prevention of maternal mortality and efficient postdelivery contraception are priorities at a global level. As a gynaecologist, a human rights activist and a politician, I want to call upon everyone to support the Safe Motherhood Week campaign!”