Experts Slam Brazil’s C-Section as Protest Intensifies

Brazil 2014

By Sarah Kimani

April 12, 2014

Also published by SABC News

Women’s rights activists on Friday held demonstrations across Brazil and in the country’s embassies in various capitals to demand the right to reproductive health choice.

Medical experts say the Caesarean Section process could put the mother and the baby at risk.

Photo: Reuters

The protest rallies were called following what the protestors say is a forced Caesarean section (C-section) on a 30-year-old woman in the country.

Brazil has one of the world’s highest rates of C-sections according to data from the country’s ministry of health.

At Marco Zero - Ground Zero - square in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state in Brazil, a handful of women chant slogans and wave placards demanding that doctors respect their right to choice.

Their symbol of protest is Adelier Carmen who they say had opted to have her third baby through vaginal birth - the doctor however said even though the two previous deliveries were through C-section - she should opt for another surgical delivery.  

The decision to disregard her doctor’s advice almost landed her in jail. “And then 1:30 at night, police came to her place and took her to hospital to perform a C-section against her will. She is doing fine now, but all her rights and desires were denied,” explains Juliana Cesar, a women’s rights activist. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a C-section rate of between 5% and 15%. 

Medical experts say the process could put the mother and the baby at risk.  

Figures published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) show that in Brazil, between 2002 and 2009 the rate was almost 52%.

Women rights activists in Brazil say it is about 51% in public hospitals and 81% in Private hospitals.  It is these numbers that have had medical expert Ana Borges, an Associate Professor at the Sao Paulo University worried.

“Women are very vulnerable during pregnancy. When a doctor says a caesarean is safe you believe that,” she says.

The high rates of C-sections have been linked to several factors including a rising number of the middle class - which in some cases saw surgical deliveries as a status symbol.

Some experts, however, say abuse by doctors and some of the interventions have made natural deliveries in Brazil more painful and stressful than necessary.

“Vaginal births in Brazil, [and] the aggressive management leave women too scared and so they opt to schedule C-section because going through labour in Brazil is associated with violence and being without a companion,” says Dr Simone Diniz, an Associate professor at the department of Maternal and a Child Health at the University of Sao Paulo. 

The protestors claim that doctors have placed convenience and profit over women's health, denying them a right to choose. 

Cesar says, “There has been a trend of treating pregnancy as if it were a disease. There has been a glorification of doctors [that] their opinion will be above everything including medical evidence.”

Data from the United Nations (UN) shows that Brazil has met its target of halving maternal mortality by 2015 as set out in the Millennium Development Goals targets.

Women are, however, still dying during delivery mainly through excessive bleeding and arterial hypertension both of which are preventable through quality care during prenatal care and child birth. 

Anna Borges who is associate professor at Sao Paulo University fears that there has been stagnation in making further progress. She blames surgical deliveries for this.

“When it comes to infant health, we are doing very well. But if we keep doing what we are doing about women’s health we will be in the same place we are now,” says Borges.

Associate professor at the university Simone Diniz says, “In terms of maternal health, the good news is we have a very vocal social movement that wants change.” 

And just like the women at Marco Zero, Diniz believes failure to respect women’s right to choose will lead to a zero sum game in the fight to reduce maternal deaths.

Sarah Kimani reported from Brazil on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP).