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UNICEF: Supporting mothers, saving lives

by Dr. Victor Karunan
UNICEF Deputy Representative, Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, 13 May 2012 - Mother’s Day is an occasion to pay tribute to our mothers for all the love and care they have given to us selflessly all these years. They have nurtured us, been with us through our good and bad times, showed us right from wrong and made us who we are today.

Around the world, millions of women give life to healthy babies and are able to enjoy the experiences of motherhood. However, for some women, childbirth and raising children is fraught with challenges. In fact, every year, approximately 350,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Almost all of these deaths (99%) occur in the developing world.

Even worse is the fact that four million newborn babies die every year, also from causes that are mainly preventable and typically linked to the health of the mother.

All these needless deaths could be prevented with timely care provided to affected mothers and their children. In UNICEF one of our core focus areas is working to reduce infant and maternal mortality, as well as improve the health and nutritional status of pregnant women.

The risks of childbearing for the mother and her baby can be greatly reduced if: 1) a woman is healthy and well-nourished before becoming pregnant; 2) she has regular maternity care by a trained health worker at least four times during every pregnancy; 3) the birth is assisted by a skilled birth attendant, such as a doctor, nurse or midwife; 4) she and her baby have access to specialised care if there are complications; and 5) she and her baby are checked regularly during the 24 hours after childbirth, in the first week, and again six weeks after giving birth. Unfortunately, many women around the world are unable to access or receive proper nourishment and the care they need.

In the state of Orissa, India, for example, up to 8 mothers die giving birth every day. Vairabi Majhi was one such mother. After her birth, she was too weak to even lift the infant to breastfeed. She was subsequently diagnosed with malaria and severe anaemia, and without medicine she could have died. Vairabi’s husband had to borrow Rs.70 (RM4.60) to pay for treatments. In the end, she made it, but only barely.

There is no reprieve for Masamat Noorjehan Begum either, who lies in bed at a municipal health complex in Ajmeriganj Subdistrict, Bangladesh. She is from a remote area called ‘haor’, or wetlands, which is submerged in water for almost half the year. During the flooding period, the village is cut off from the rest of the district and even access to basic services is limited.

Masamat had given birth at home with the help of an untrained assistant, but soon came to the hospital because of post-delivery complications. The mother recovered, but unfortunately her infant daughter died two months later due to pneumonia. Poor post-delivery nutrition, along with limited access to basic health services and poor quality health care during delivery were the reasons Masamat lost her infant child.

These tragic situations actually get worse as there are other factors contributing to the high numbers of maternal deaths. From husbands that prevent pregnant wives from seeking medical help to widespread poverty, lack of knowledge and / or access to contraception and family planning as well as limited access to basic health care, these women live in a vicious cycle, which greatly concerns UNICEF and drives our work to reduce maternal mortality around the world.

Studies show that the majority of these deaths are preventable. In fact, all that is needed are access to skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery, as well as proper nourishment for the mother and her baby.

UNICEF – along with its partners in various developing countries – has made a commitment to enhance the health of mother and child by working to improve emergency obstetric care. Efforts are currently underway via various programs implemented around the world to ensure that a trained midwife is present at every birth, transportation to medical help is accessible and quality emergency care is provided to pregnant women. Further initiatives, such as laying the foundations for good prenatal care are also saving lives. These include efforts to provide information to women and their families on signs of pregnancy complications, birth spacing as well as nutrition and health.

In Malaysia, the Government has made great strides to improve maternal mortality rates by implementing programs that have seen a reduction in mortality rates and adolescent births, as well as an increase in the presence of skilled healthcare personnel during childbirths. The UNICEF Malaysia Country Office supports the Government’s progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and subsequently, the developmental goals of Vision 2020, through continued advocacy and policy efforts to minimise gaps and ensure universal care for all mothers in Malaysia.

In addition, UNICEF Malaysia has partnered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) to produce the Best Business Practices Circulars on setting up childcare centres at the workplace and the implementation of a breastfeeding program in the workplace. These Best Business Practices not only encourage more women to stay on in the workforce and be gainfully employed to support their families, but also contribute towards Malaysia’s socio-economic development and supports the national target of increasing the female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) among women to 55% under the Tenth Malaysia Plan.

As you celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I would like to ask you to take the time to appreciate not just the mothers in your life, but the mothers in Malaysia and around the world who need your love and support.

UNICEF Malaysia is currently running a Mother’s Day campaign to highlight the serious issue and implications of maternal mortality. Your attention and support towards this initiative will help us provide them with the care and services they desperately deserve.

Almost every woman’s dream is to safely give life to healthy babies and experience the joys of motherhood. And as you cherish the mothers in your life this Mother’s Day, I want to thank you for having the kindness to help more women achieve this desire.

This OpEd was published by The Star and The China Press on 13 May 2012.


For more information, please contact:

Indra Kumari Nadchatram
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
+6012 292 6872,

Sasha Surandran
UNICEF Media, Malaysia
+6019 658 5160,





Mother's Day

SOWC 2009 - Maternal and Newborn Health

Millennium Development Goal 5

Nursing Mothers in the Workplace


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