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Brazil Takes Step to Implement Historic United Nations Ruling in Maternal Death Case

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Approves Monetary Reparations Agreement with Brazilian Government for the Mother of Alyne da Silva Pimentel

(PRESS RELEASE) The Brazilian government has agreed to pay reparations as part of the first United Nations ruling on human rights violations in a maternal death case.

Almost three years after the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) declared Brazil responsible for the death of an Afro-Brazilian woman—calling on the state to provide access to quality maternal health care without discrimination—the Brazilian government will provide the mother of Alyne da Silva Pimentel reparations.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“All women are entitled to maternal health care when they need it—regardless of where they live, their income, or their race.

“Alyne was repeatedly denied the medical attention she needed and it led to her death.

“The Brazilian government has taken an important first step to abide by the United Nations’ decision, but must do more to improve maternal health care and put an end to discrimination against marginalized women seeking medical treatment.”

Alyne, a 28-year-old Afro-Brazilian woman, six-months pregnant with her second child, was admitted to the private Health Centre Belford Roxo complaining of nausea in November 2002. Although she presented signs of a high-risk pregnancy, she was discharged without any medical treatment. Two days later, she returned to the private clinic in even worse condition. Doctors discovered that the fetus had died and removed it, but Alyne’s health continued deteriorating. It took more than eight hours to get an ambulance to take her to Hospital Geral de Nova Iguaçu—where Alyne then suffered through a delay of more than 21 hours before she was finally given medical treatment. She later slipped into a coma and died on November 16, 2002—five days after she initially asked for medical attention.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Advocacia Cidadã Pelos Direitos Humanos submitted a petition on behalf of Alyne’s family before CEDAW in November 2007—the first maternal mortality case brought to the human rights body. The committee declared Brazil responsible for violating Alyne’s human rights and ordered the state to provide individual reparations to her family and implement general measures to prevent maternal deaths.

Since the 2011 CEDAW ruling, the Brazilian government has taken some steps to implement the U.N. decision. While an interministerial working group for the implementation of CEDAW’s general recommendations was created to develop a work plan and indicators of compliance, the group’s term expired in October 2013 and its assignment was not completed.

On February 28, 2014, the CEDAW Committee backed an agreement between the Brazilian government and the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Alyne’s family, on the monetary compensation that will be given to Maria Lourdes da Silva Pimentel in April. The individual reparations for Alyne’s daughter are still pending. The CEDAW Committee also underscored that the follow up dialogue would continue regarding the other recommendations, particularly the reparations for Alyne´s daughter.

“The Brazilian government is taking an important step in acknowledging that the health care system in the country failed Alyne and other marginalized Brazilian women,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Now it must act swiftly to provide financial reparations to Alyne’s daughter and create public policies to improve maternal health care for all women once and for all.”

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 800 women die every day worldwide from pregnancy complications. Brazil accounts for a quarter of all maternal deaths in Latin America and 90 percent of them could be prevented with prenatal care. Although Brazil has reduced its maternal mortality rate in the last decade, maternal mortality remains the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age, disproportionately affecting low-income, Afro-Brazilian, indigenous women, and those living in rural areas and the Brazilian North and Northeast.