As world leaders gather in New York for this week’s World Summit at the United Nations, an unprecedented coalition of governments and health organizations joined together today to underscore the critical importance of reducing child and maternal deaths as part of the overall campaign to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
To accelerate progress in reducing millions of deaths that are preventable, leading advocates for women and children launched The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health today. The new partnership unites the world’s leading organizations on maternal, newborn and child health to galvanize global efforts and scale up the resources, strategies and political commitments needed to reduce maternal and child mortality.
While some countries have made substantial progress, at the current rate of progress the majority of developing nations will fall well short of achieving the 2015 MDGs for maternal and child health. MDGs 4&5 call for reducing the rate of child death by two thirds and the ratio of maternal death by three fourths by 2015 from 1990 baselines.
“Each year over half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth and 10.6 million children die before their fifth birthday,” said Ann M. Veneman the Executive Director of UNICEF, kicking off the event. “To accelerate progress, we need to integrate our efforts at the global, national and community level.”
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) is an example of a partnership created to address health issues that cannot be resolved by individual organizations operating independently. Launched in 2000, GAVI is a public-private partnership with the goal of reducing the number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. Today GAVI announced that the Alliance's efforts have expanded access to new and under-used vaccines in the poorest countries, immunizing 78 million children with under-used vaccines (such as hepatitis B, yellow fever and Hib) and averting one million premature deaths over the life time of children born between 2001-2004.
“Only a focussed, coordinated effort can bring women, newborns and children the health care they need during pregnancy, delivery, the early weeks of life and in childhood,” said Joy Phumaphi, Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Working with countries on integrated initiatives like this has the potential to transform millions of lives and make critical progress."
Millions of children and women have yet to be protected against preventable causes of death. Little or no health care for mothers during pregnancy, inadequate birthing conditions and the lack of skilled attendants during deliveries cause the largest proportion of all child and maternal deaths. Acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, malaria and measles are major killers of children under-five years. Malnutrition, unsafe or inadequate water and sanitation also contribute to more than half of child deaths. Two thirds of these deaths could be prevented or treated with low-cost, existing interventions.
“Despite affordable and available life-saving interventions, countless mothers, babies and children continue to die each day simply because of where they are born and live,” said Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairperson, Commission of the African Union. “This not only represents an unacceptable disparity but shows that we are not even meeting the first benchmark of development – keeping children and women alive.”
The World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2005 estimates that meeting the promises made for maternal and child health, during the Millennium Summit in September 2000, will require an additional US $9 billion on average per year from now until 2015.
However, millions of women and children in the poorest environments can be saved with an integrated approach involving available low-technology; low-cost interventions based on family care and community outreach programs. Things as simple as prevention of malaria and tetanus; keeping the newborn warm; exclusive breastfeeding; early recognition of illness and seeking care can make huge inroads with modest resources.
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health brings together national leaders, donors, UN agencies, professional associations, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations. It will immediately begin to work on accelerating integrated action for maternal, newborn and child health at national and global levels, based on the MDGs
A unification of efforts cannot move forward without greater ownership from all those involved. The world summit this week holds an unparalleled opportunity for world leaders to follow through on existing promises and take immediate action to prevent countless numbers of maternal and child deaths.
“Greater political leadership coupled with increased financial resources is needed at international and national levels if we are going to meet these goals,” said Konaré. “Investment in maternal, newborn and child health is not only a priority for saving lives, but it is also critical to advancing other goals related to human welfare, equity, and poverty reduction.”