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Geneva, Switzerland, WHO, 1986. 22 p.Maternal care is the most appropriate target for reducing the high perinatal and neonatal mortality typical of the least developed countries. The principles formulated by the 25th session of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Committee on Health Policy in 1985 are outlined here. Perinatal mortality is defined as infant death from 1000 g, even if intrauterine or stillborn, to 1 week of age. Neonatal mortality is that occurring in the 1st month of life. Half of infant mortality (up to 1 year of age) occurs in the 1st month, most of that during the 1st week, and these deaths are directly related to maternal care during pregnancy and delivery. They are caused by low birth weight, intrauterine or birth asphyxia, birth trauma, or infections, usually of the cord or amniotic fluid. Tetanus is the primary lethal infection. Tetanus can be prevented by immunizing women, or giving tetanus toxoid to pregnant women, but also very effectively by training birth assistants in hygiene. Traumatic deaths can best be prevented by training midwives and strengthening the support system for referral to clinics. The most cost-effective strategies for improving maternal health are nutritional intervention, malaria prevention, treatment of infections and of toxemia, reducing heavy workload of pregnant women, and family planning services. Points where community involvement is effective are discussed. WHO and UNICEF will increase support in health education, tetanus immunization, training of birth attendants, equipping birth facilities, appropriate technology, and operational research.
WHO CHRONICLE. 1986; 40(1):31-6.A traditional practice that has attracted considerable attention in the last decade is female circumcision, the adverse effects of which are undeniable. 70 million women are estimated to be circumcised, with several thousand new operations performed each day. It is a custom that continues to be widespread only in Africa north of the equator, though mild forms of female circumcision are reported from some Asian countries. In 1979 a Seminar on Traditional Practices that Affect the Health of Women and Children was held in the Sudan. It was 1 of the 1st interregional and international efforts to exchange information on female circumcision and other traditional practices, to study their implications, and to make specific recommendations on the approach to be taken by the health services. There are 3 main types of female circumcision: circumcision proper is the mildest but also the rarest form and involves the removal only of the clitoral prepuce; excision involves the amputation of the entire clitoris and all or part of the labia minora; and infibulation, also known as Pharaonic circumcision, involves the amputation of the clitoris, the whole of the labia minora, and at least the anterior 2/3 and often the whole of the medial part of the labia majora. Initial circumcision is carried out before a girl reaches puberty. The operation generally is the responsibility of the traditional midwife, who rarely uses even a local anesthetic. She is assisted by a number of women to hold the child down, and these frequently include the child's own relatives. Most of the adverse health consequences are associated with Pharaonic circumcision. Hemorrhage and shock from the acute pain are immediate dangers of the operation, and, because it is usually performed in unhygienic circumstances, the risks of infection and tetanus are considerable. Retention of urine is common. Cases have been reported in which infibulated unmarried girls have developed swollen bellies, owing to obstruction of the menstrual flow. Implantion dermoid cysts are a very common complication. Infections of the vagina, urinary tract, and pelvis occur often. A women who has been infibulated suffers great difficulty and pain during sexual intercourse, which can be excruciating if a neuroma has formed at the point of section of the dorsal nerve of the clitoris. Consummation of marriage often necessitates the opening up of the scar. During childbirth infibulation causes a variety of serious problems including prolonged labor and obstructed delivery, with increased risk of fetal brain damage and fetal loss. A variety of reasons are advanced by its adherents for continuing to support the practice of female circumcision, but the reasons are rationalizations, and none of the reasons bear close scrutiny. The campaigning against female circumcision is reviewed.