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Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 15:47 UK

Cambodia women in health battle

By Jill McGivering
BBC World Service, Cambodia

In Cambodia , five women die every day because of inadequate health care during childbirth - making it a leading cause of death among women of child-bearing age.

Health centre
Cambodian villagers are encouraged to give birth in the local health centre

The government is trying to improve health services but it is proving a long slow process.

Lvea village, in north-western Cambodia, is a collection of wooden stilt-houses along a dirt track, hectic with dogs, piglets and chickens.

Most of the women here have been told to have their babies in the local health centre.

So when one woman, Low't, went into labour recently with her ninth child, she made her way there too.

Sad but common story

Her neighbour, Ron, told me what happened:

"The delivery went well - but afterwards Low't started to feel faint. She was losing blood.

"The health centre didn't have the right medicine - so they went eight kilometres (5 miles) by trailer to a larger one.

"The midwife there couldn't stop the bleeding either, and sent them to the hospital in the nearest town.

"They were still travelling, heading downriver by boat, when Low't died."

It's a sad but common story.

Eighty per cent of Cambodia 's population live in rural areas and the public health system is weak.

In recent years, the government has made it a priority to strengthen its network of trained midwives.

Villagers in Lvea
Most Cambodians live in rural areas, where the health system is not strong

They now attend more than half of all births - a significant increase.

Many local clinics function better, even if they're still poorly equipped.

But midwives are paid very little - and can be distracted by running private businesses too.

In Lvea village, the women were cautious about criticising the midwives who tried but failed to save Low't's life.

But one woman made this plea to her government: "Please supply good quality medicine to the health centre so that it can help us."

Progress is being made.

But for women like Low't, it's simply too little, too late.



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