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Speech by Ms. Naomi Kitahara at the signing and launching ceremony of the “Leave no one behind: innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in ethnic minority regions of Viet Nam” project

Mr. Nguyen Đức Vinh, Director of the Maternal and Child Health Department, Ministry of Health of Vietnam;

 

Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, MSD for Mothers Lead;

 

Ms. Jennifer Cox, General Director MSD HH Vietnam;

 

Representatives of the local authorities, health care providers and village-based midwives of Bac Kan, Son La, Lai Chau, Gia Lai, Dac Nong and Kon Tum;

 

Development Partner Representatives including multilateral and bilateral donors and WHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS and other UN colleagues; 

 

Representatives of the Reproductive Health Affinity Group, including international and local CSOs;

 

Media representatives, 

 

Today, we are gathered here at this landmark event to virtually launch the Project: Leaving no one behind: Innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in the ethnic minority region in Vietnam”, with a total financial contribution of USD 1.2 million from MSD for Mothers and MSD Vietnam. For UNFPA Vietnam, this project is one of the most important initiatives as it aims at reducing maternal mortality among the ethnic minority groups in six provinces in Northern Midlands and Mountains, and Central Highland regions through innovative interventions with close attention to special needs of ethnic minority women who are at risk of being left behind in the country’s sustainable development process. 

 

Dear participants, 

 

Viet Nam has made significant progress in improving sexual and reproductive health of the general population in the past 20 years, and Vietnam was one of the only six countries in the world which achieved, in 2015, the Millennium Development Goal - 5 (MDG5) on the reduction of maternal mortality. However, disparities and inequalities remain in access to and utilization of sexual and reproductive health services among different ethnicities and regions. Current evidence shows that while the maternal mortality ratio has declined to 46 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births at the national level, it still remains as high as 100-150 per 100,000 live births in mountainous and ethnic minority regions, particularly in Northern Midlands and Mountains, and Central Highlands. Among all maternal mortality cases, it is extremely high in some vulnerable ethnic minority groups, for instance Hmong (60%) and Thai (17%). It is estimated that in the Northern Midlands and Mountains, maternal mortality amongst Hmong mothers is 7 times higher than the Kinh mothers. More than half of maternal deaths are happening at district and provincial hospitals due to limited capacities of health care facilities to manage maternal complications. In addition, remote and hard-to-reach geographical locations, socio-economic conditions, cultural barriers and a limited understanding of maternal complications are also additional causes of higher maternal mortality.

 

Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and disproportionately affected vulnerable population groups, especially women and girls in general and pregnant mothers in the ethnic minority regions in particular. UNFPA’s modelling analysis estimated in due to Covid-19 in the first quarter 2020,  maternal mortality could increase by 44-65% as a negative consequence of the pandemic in Viet Nam. This meant 298-443 additional mothers dying from pregnancy and childbirth a year in Viet Nam. UNFPA is very much alarmed by this, as it essentially meant a reversal of developmental gains that Viet Nam has achieved in the past decades in the areas of sexual and reproductive health.

 

Pregnancy does not stop in emergency or in COVID-19 context. Pregnancy and childbirth are the essential part of people’s lives, and it should not be forgotten even in the face of COVID-19. We insist that essential sexual and reproductive health care has to continue to be provided without any interruption to women, so as to ensure that pregnancy-related risks and complications are identified and managed without delays for the health of mothers and babies.  No woman should die giving birth!

 

Dear participants, 

 

In my recent trip to Lai Chau province in April 2021, one of six participating provinces of this project, I saw exceptional vulnerability of ethnic minority communities when it comes to sexual and reproductive health. They often reside in such remote and mountainous locations, far away from health facilities, and the availability of skilled medical personnel, particularly those with fluency in local languages, an understanding of different socio-cultural contexts, and necessary medical equipment and supplies, is very much limited.

 

Against this background, UNFPA Vietnam highly appreciates the decision made by MSD for Mothers and MSD Vietnam to fund innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in six ethnic minority provinces, namely Bac Kan, Son La, Lai Chau in Northern Midland and Mountains, and Gia Lai, Dac Nong and Kon Tum in Central Highland. We will be paying close attention to special needs of the target population groups and taking into consideration unique culture and tradition of ethnic minorities in Viet Nam.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Provincial Departments of Health in six provinces and local civil society organizations, UNFPA will deliver the project effectively to support vulnerable ethnic minority women.   

 

The signing to launch the Project today demonstrates UNFPA’s continued commitments to supporting the Government of Vietnam to ensure the rights and choices for all, and to ensure the provision of quality sexual and reproductive health services to prevent maternal deaths, thus contributing to Vietnam’s efforts to achieve SDGs by 2030.

Thank you very much for your attention and participation!