In November 2002, Alyne, a 28-year-old Afro-Brazilian woman, was admitted into a private clinic complaining of nausea. Although the medical staff considered her to present signs of a high-risk pregnancy, she was discharged from the clinic. She returned to the clinic two days later, and the doctors discovered that her fetus had died and removed it. Alyne’s health continued to decline, and she was later transferred to the Hospital Geral de Nova Igaçu. Medical officials continued to delay her treatment, and on November 16, 2002, she died.
With the aid of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Alyne’s mother, Maria Lourdes da Silva Pimentel, submitted a petition to the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, a United Nations human rights body. The case, Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil, marks the first maternal mortality that has been brought to human rights body.
In 2011, CEDAW ruled that Alyne’s death was a human rights violation and ordered Brazil to pay reparations to her family. Brazil has taken steps to prevent maternal deaths since the ruling. Most recently, CEDAW and the Brazilian reached an agreement regarding the reparations in February 2014.
The decision marks a major step forward in the fight against maternal mortality, as Brazil has become the first country in the world to pay reparations for maternal death. As Mónica Arango, the Latin America and Caribbean regional director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “The fact that Brazil is acknowledging this as a human rights problem and has had the political will to undertake it and move forward a bit – it’s definitely clear for me that Brazil cares about women and cares about health issues for women.”
The controversy surrounding Alyne’s death underscores the larger issue of maternal mortality. It is a gross injustice that disproportionately affects women of low-income backgrounds. A quarter of all maternal deaths in Latin America occur in Brazil, and worldwide, approximately 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth related complications everyday. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. As Arango stressed, “Maternal mortality, as a structural problem, around discrimination basically on the basis of socio-economic status and race, is a structural problem in Brazil that has really been going on forever.” The conclusion of Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil marks a major victory for combatting maternal mortality and acknowledging it as a fundamental human rights issue.
For more information on why maternal mortality happens, please see my previous article.