Photo courtesy of The Bahamas Weekly
Government efforts to improve women’s access to a full range of reproductive health services directly contribute to the decline of maternal mortality.
As of 2008, the lifetime risk of dying from maternal causes in the Bahamas was 1 in 1,000—far better than the overall Caribbean statistic of 1 in 260 ((Save the Children, State of the World’s Mothers 2014: Saving Mothers and Children in Humanitarian Crises (Westport, CT 2014).)). The country has made significant progress in reducing maternal mortality over the past decade, declining from 60 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006 to 47 deaths in 2010, and 37 deaths by 2013 ((United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 2006, A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration (2006).)) ((World Health Organization,World Health Statistics 2012, Part III: Global Health Indicators (Geneva 2012).)).
Women in The Bahamas have equal access to the health care system, receiving antenatal and postnatal reproductive health services free of charge in all government clinics, including routine iron, folic acid and multivitamin supplements. Additionally, the government has implemented extended clinic hours in order to accommodate women who can only access services in the evening. The government endeavors to increase women’s access to other reproductive health services, employing a full-time family planning coordinator to oversee family planning in all government clinics. The clinics offer a variety of family planning methods and physical exams such as pap smears, sexually transmitted infections screenings and breast exams ((Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Combined initial, second, third and fourth periodic reports of States parties: Bahamas, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/BHS/4 (2009).)).
Moreover, the government focuses several programs on teenage mothers, providing them with comprehensive educational and vocational training services and spiritual and emotional support in addition to maternal health care services ((Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention, Initial reports of states parties due in 1993: Bahamas, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/8/Add.50 (2004), p. 13.)). Besides directly addressing women’s health needs, the Bahamian government seeks to address them indirectly, through the help of men. Their innovative Male Health Initiative, a component within the Maternal and Child Health Unit of the Ministry of Health, encourages men to not only take responsibility for their reproductive health, but also to support their partners and play an active role in their children’s health ((Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Combined initial, second, third and fourth periodic reports of States parties: Bahamas, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/BHS/4 (2009).)).
Notwithstanding the country’s achievements regarding maternal health, undernourishment in expectant mothers remains a problem as does maternal health care for HIV-positive women ((Ibid.)). New cases of HIV infection continue to increase, especially among women of childbearing age. This results not only in an increase in infants born with HIV infections, but also an increase in deaths of HIV-infected women, who are often the primary caregivers in a household ((Shayne Neely-Smith, “The impact of HIV/AIDS on Bahamian women: A feminist perspective,” Health Care for Women International, vol. 24, No. 8 (2003), pp. 738-754.)). To mitigate these risks and control the high occurrence of HIV, the government treats pregnant women with anti-viral drugs, free of cost ((World Trade Press, Bahamas: Women in Culture, Business & Travel (Petaluma, California 2008).)). Although significant challenges remain, the Bahamian government’s efforts to improve women’s access to reproductive health services are commendable.