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South Africa

Countdown to 2015: MPs join call to boost maternal and child survival

© WHO/2008/Pirozzi
UNICEF Representative in South Africa Macharia Kamau addresses the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly on maternal, newborn and child mortality in Cape Town, South Africa.

By Genine Babakian

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, 18 April 2008 – ‘Countdown to 2015’, a report on maternal, newborn and child survival, was released at the 118th annual Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly in Cape Town this week, followed by a three-day conference where over 500 participating global health experts and Members of Parliament were urged to accelerate efforts to reach Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on child and maternal survival.

The purpose of the conference was to share the latest information – highlighting the 68 countries in the world where 97 per cent of all maternal and child deaths occur – and to seek concrete commitments from parliamentarians mobilizing support for women and children.

“MPs need to get involved when it comes to achieving MDGs 4 and 5,” IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson said at the launch of the ‘Countdown’ report, referring in particular to representatives of the 68 priority countries where urgent action is needed to save the lives of women and children.

“By launching the ‘Countdown’ report here at the IPU assembly,” he added, “we expect to gain awareness on their behalf and a commitment to go back to their countries to see what they can do to get things right.”

Successful interventions

A collaborative effort of institutions and individuals, the ‘Countdown’ tracks coverage of 22 interventions proven to save the lives of mothers and children, showing where progress is significant and where it is lacking. 

The report cites the need to strengthen national health systems and provide basic, cost-effective health services for mothers, newborns and children at all of the critical stages of life. Weak national health systems are one of the main obstacles to providing these life-saving services.

“There are over 10 million mothers and children who die every year from perfectly preventable and treatable causes. That boils down to 25,000 women and children every day losing their lives unnecessarily,” said UNICEF Representative in South Africa Macharia Kamau.

“We need strong health systems and a continuum of care. We know solutions do exist that, if brought to scale, can achieve significant reductions in mortality,” said Dr. Francisco Songane, Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Critical gap in health coverage

While the ‘Countdown’ report highlights remarkable progress in some areas – including immunization, malaria prevention and vitamin A supplementation – it nonetheless finds that these advances fall far short of what is needed to achieve the MDGs. Only 16 of the 68 priority countries are on track for MDG 4 on child survival, and the vast majority of countries have maternal mortality rates classified as high or very high.

A critical gap in health coverage occurs in the pre-pregnancy to two-year-old period – particularly during and shortly after childbirth, when mother and infant are most vulnerable.

Indeed, 40 per cent of child deaths occur within the first month of life, and half a million women die every year as a result of easily prevented complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, which bears an increasingly large portion of the global burden of child and maternal mortality.




16 April 2008: Members of Parliament reflect on their experiences during the 118th assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Many of the 600 parliamentarians meeting in Cape Town visited UNICEF-sponsored projects in the area.
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