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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Mort du père de l’obstétrique moderne

by Dany Stive

The father of modern obstetrics dies

Death. France has Émile Papiernik to thank for the fall in its neonatal mortality rate.

Translated Thursday 20 August 2009, by Karen Grimwade and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The epidural, the ultrasound, pregnancy monitoring, two weeks of extra maternity leave for pregnancy-related health problems [1]… We owe all of these practices and techniques, which brought obstetrics out of the Dark Age, to Émile Papiernik, who passed away on Friday, August 7 at the age of 72.

An eminent doctor and exceptional gynaecologist, Papiernik made it his lifelong goal to work as closely as possible with patients, incorporating social and cultural information into his medical practice.

It was his wife’s first pregnancy in 1962 that turned this brilliant oncology intern into a gynaecologist and obstetrician. Papiernik decided to change speciality after having seen the pitiful conditions in this field of medicine. His work on the prevention of premature births was considered authoritative and its conclusions adopted in many countries. France’s own health policy took inspiration from them and the result was remarkable: a fifty-percent drop in the neonatal mortality rate over a period of approximately ten years.

As Department Head at the Antoine-Béclère hospital in Clamart (Paris region), Papiernik worked hard to foresee difficult pregnancies, make high-risk births safer and reduce the number of premature babies, even if that meant shaking up the hospital’s administration, when it was reluctant to buy an ultrasound scanner, for example. It was he that recruited Professor René Frydman, the doctor whose work permitted the birth of the first test tube baby, born in Papiernik’s maternity hospital.

At the end of the 1980s Papiernik worked with the Seine-Saint-Denis département to reduce their neonatal mortality rate, which was above the national average. Success came after three years of studies and one year spent building a network of professionals, most notably via mother and baby clinics.

[1congé pathologique

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