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'Women Deliver 2010' conference addresses maternal health and child survival

© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1050/Chalasani
A mother adjusts the sling pouch strapping her two-year-old child to her back as they make their way home in the village of Tsaki, located in the Maradi Region of Niger, one of 68 countries covered in the 'Countdown to 2015' report on maternal, newborn and child survival.

By Chris Niles and Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, 7 June 2010 – UNICEF and other international leaders in maternal health and child survival are meeting in Washington, DC this week to accelerate a global campaign aimed at reducing deaths of pregnant women and young children.

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The ‘Women Deliver 2010’ conference, which begans today and continues through Wednesday, comes as a new report reveals that an estimated 2 million mothers and babies die every year for lack of skilled medical help.

‘Countdown to 2015’

Nearly 50 percent of women in 68 countries – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – give birth without a trained nurse, midwife or doctor, according to the report, ‘Countdown to 2015’, which tracks maternal health and newborn and child survival during the decade from 2000 to 2010.

© Women Deliver 2010 webcast
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake joins a Women Deliver panel on maternal mortality moderated by Time Magazine Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs and featuring Joyce Banda, Vice President of Malawi; Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization; Anne Mulcahy, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Save the Children; Mary Robinson, President, Realizing Rights, the Ethical Globalization Initiative; and Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The report shows, as well, that only 10 countries have increased the rate of skilled care at childbirth by 10 per cent or more since 1990; 11 countries have made no progress at all.

And while the total number of children dying before they reach the age of five has declined, the percentage of infants who die during the first 28 days after birth has increased in recent years, the report finds.

Investing in women’s health

“Most of the progress is for the older child,” said UNICEF Chief of Health Dr. Mickey Chopra, one of the authors of ‘Countdown to 2015’.

“That progress demonstrates that interventions for potential child killers such as measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases are being used effectively and are saving lives,” Dr. Chopra added. “Insecticide-treated bed nets [to prevent malaria] and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV have been rapidly scaled up in many countries. These successes show what can happen when commitments are made and fulfilled.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0242/Crowe
In the Indian state of Orissa, Vairabhi Majhi was due to be discharged from the government run primary health facility at Khariar less than two hours after her baby was born. When tested later, the young mother was found to be highly anaemic and suffered from Malaria.

Participants in the ‘Women Deliver’ conference are seeking more such commitments, with a focus on political, economic, cultural and technological solutions to the crisis in maternal and newborn health.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake is joining other delegates in emphasizing that the Millennium Development Goals can be met only by investing in women – and that the 2015 deadline for the MDGs is achievable if funds are committed.

MDG 5 calls for reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the 2015 target date, while MDG 4 aims to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds. If current trends continue, however, the 68 countries covered in ‘Countdown to 2015’ will face a $60 billion gap in funding for the maternal, newborn and child-health interventions needed to meet these goals.

‘Next steps in getting to MDG 5’

At a discussion this afternoon on ‘Next steps in getting to MDG 5’, Mr. Lake participated in a distinguished panel exploring the challenges that remain in the global effort to reduce maternal mortality. While the world has made substantial strides in that direction, the panelists agreed, it is simply not enough.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0273/Nesbitt
Hilda Chilekwa holds her infant, Mwitwa, in their home in Lusaka, Zambia. Ms. Chilekwa and her husband are both HIV-positive and take anti-retroviral medications. Mwitwawas recently tested to determine his HIV status.

From a UNICEF perspective, Mr. Lake cited two main reasons for the lag in progress. First, he noted, “children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.” As a result, it can be easier to secure the resources needed to meet their basic needs. “But women have often remained invisible,” he said.

In addition, the UNICEF chief explained, good maternal health “requires skilled personnel and a health system that delivers” – as opposed to routine immunization and many other child-health interventions that can be carried out with relatively basic resources at the community level.

But Mr. Lake did not see such obstacles as any excuse to let up on the drive towards MDG 5. To the contrary, he said, “We have to work harder.”




4 June 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on global efforts to reduce the number of women dying from pregnancy-related complications.
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Women Deliver 2010 conference
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