Gender inequality a major contributor to global stillbirths, Saskatchewan study finds

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WATCH: Saskatchewan study links stillbirths to gender inequality – Feb 5, 2020

New research from the University of Saskatchewan finds gender inequality as a major contributor to stillbirths.

A research team mapped global patterns of stillbirth rates and found the lack of education and employment associated with inequality can increase a woman’s likelihood of having a stillbirth.

“[The study] directly implicates a social factor like gender inequality,” research supervisor Nazeem Muhajarine told Global News.
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READ MORE: Saskatoon nurse aims to help families through stillbirth after suffering her own

Other major contributors include poor nutrition and inaccessible health care during pregnancy and birth.

“We need to provide conditions for mothers to have healthier pregnancies, particularly nutrition,” said Muhajarine, a professor with the university’s community health and epidemiology department.

“Infrastructure development and improvement in countries where stillbirth rates are high is… immediately called for. That includes training professionals… and making them available to mothers who need them.”

University of Saskatchewan researchers Daniel Adeyinka (left) and Nazeem Muhajarine say inequality, poverty and poor nutrition contribute to high stillbirth rates. Anna McMillan / Global News

Based on data from 194 countries, the study found stillbirths are most common in clusters of countries in Africa and southern Asia. Pakistan has the highest stillbirth rate, at about 43 deaths per 1,000 births, while Iceland has the lowest rate of 1.3. Canada has about three deaths for every 1,000 births.

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The World Health Organization says out of an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths each year, nearly half result from preventable conditions during labour and birth.

“It takes a big toll on women… and families, couples. But in spite of this, we don’t know a whole lot,” Muhajarine said.

“Stillbirth actually has been kind of flying under the radar in most of the medical research.”

Researcher and PhD student Daniel Adeyinka highlighted the challenge of addressing a problem that isn’t fully understood.

“The first step is to actually know where the epicentres of stillbirths are globally so that there will be targeted interventions in those areas,” he said.

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“There is little evidence to actually support the policymakers to develop appropriate interventions.”

He hopes to share the results with policymakers, including those in his home country of Nigeria, where the stillbirth rate is 42.9.

The researchers said tackling the underlying social causes behind the global disparity of stillbirths could help reduce the number of people who have to deal with the loss of a child.

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“We need to work on helping women have healthy pregnancies,” Muhajarine said, “by improving their nutrition, by giving them access to health facilities, and making sure that our girls and women and mothers are on equal footing with men.”