|A woman who had no prenatal care, and whose child was stillborn, is comforted by a nurse in the maternity ward of the government hospital in the town of Bo in southern Sierra Leone, which has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.|
By Elizabeth Kiem
NEW YORK, USA, 18 July 2008 – Acting on a shared commitment to women and their families, UNICEF has joined the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in an alliance to help reduce maternal and newborn mortality worldwide.
The three-and-a-half-year alliance, formalized yesterday with a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies and Mailman’s Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (AMDD), envisions a “strengthened relationship” to save the lives of mothers and infants “by developing technical support and expanded programming on maternal and newborn health … while strengthening health systems and building capacity.”
The agreement builds upon collaborations on child survival and paediatric HIV already established between UNICEF and the Mailman School.
“Key to reducing maternal and newborn deaths is building human resource capacities in those countries with the highest mortality levels,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.
“This partnership will help address these gaps through training and mentoring health workers, including midwives. This will help ensure skilled capacity for obstetric and newborn emergencies,” Ms. Veneman added.
UNICEF, UNFPA and AMDD have worked collaboratively for close to a decade in nearly 50 countries worldwide. AMDD funding and technical support have been crucial to UNICEF’s Women’s Right to Life and Health Programme in South Asia, and have helped initiate improved obstetric and newborn care in many African countries.
|© Lynn Saville/2008|
|From left: Prof. Lynn Freedman, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid and Dr. Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, signatories to the new memorandum of understanding.|
Focus on countries with urgent needs
The latest agreement, building on the long-time work of Mailman’s Dean Emeritus, Dr. Allan Rosenfield, envisions a global network of individuals and institutions providing technical support for emergency obstetric and newborn care, created jointly by the three parties.
Initially, efforts will focus on many of the 70 countries identified by UNFPA and UNICEF as having the most urgent needs.
“This global network will be built together with institutions based in the countries and regions,” said Prof. Lynn Freedman, Director of the AMDD programme. “Our aim is to ensure that all countries have, within their regions, the technical support they need to save the lives of women and newborns.”
High stakes worldwide
Every year, more than 500,000 women die due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth, and almost 4 million children die during their first 28 days of life.
The majority of obstetric complications occur with women with no known risk factors – a fact that highlights the need for timely access to emergency obstetric care.
The momentum and funding for addressing these problems is steadily increasing. With unprecedented resources allocated for work in achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on child survival and maternal health, respectively, it is imperative that the constraints of limited capacity in the most at-risk countries be removed.
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