Roughly 287,000 mothers die each year from pregnancy related causes, including childbirth, and millions more suffer from complications. In 2011, 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday, nearly all from preventable or treatable causes. While some countries have made improvements in maternal and child health in recent years, there remains an enormous gap between the developed and developing world: sub-Saharan Africa's child mortality rate is 24 times that of industrialized countries and women living in the poorest countries are nearly 300 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth than women living in industrialized countries.
The challenge is not a lack of technology but a lack of access to technology. In the world's poorest countries, access to basic life-saving interventions is inhibited by weak health systems that are characterized by shortages of health care workers, a lack of basic equipment, and inadequate infrastructure such as clinics and health facilities. Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 24% of the global burden of disease, has only 3% of the world's health workforce.
While some of the resources mobilized in recent years for AIDS, TB, and malaria have addressed child and maternal health, there has not been a parallel investment in health systems, which are critical to sustain improvements in maternal and child health. Also, a lack of predictable financing makes it difficult for governments to plan for the long-term and invest in strengthening their health system - especially components like the health workforce, which have significant costs that recur from year to year.
Simple, cost-effective solutions to address maternal and child health exist, can be applied in developing country settings, and are cost-effective. Antenatal care such as iron supplementation and infection screening, skilled care during birth in the community and at facilities as well as basic postpartum and newborn care during the first few weeks of life can benefit mothers and babies, and can save lives.
Research indicates that if women had access to basic maternal health services, 80% of maternal deaths could be prevented. Vitamin A supplementation, which costs only $1.25 per year per child, could save over a quarter of a million young lives annually by reducing the risk and severity of diarrhoea and infections. Additionally, investment in the health of mothers and children reaps widespread development returns that can benefit communities for generations to come. The survival and health of mothers is essential to the well-being of the entire family - children who lose their mothers are five times more likely to die in infancy that those who do not. Healthy children, meanwhile, are more likely to benefit from educational opportunities and grow into productive adults. For example, a 35% decrease in under-5 mortality in Bolivia was shown to increase primary school enrollment among eligible children by 30%.
Thankfully, mechanisms such as The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a unique and innovative public-private partnership, is making a huge difference in the lives of children in the poorest countries. Since its launch in 2000, GAVI and its partners have averted an estimated 5.5 million future child deaths and have supported the immunization of more than 370 million children.
Achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 would mean reducing child mortality rates by two-thirds, and maternal mortality rates by three-quarters by 2015, respectively. Although the world is off-track to meet these targets, with leadership and commitment from developing countries and the donor community, the health of mothers and children in the developing world can improve.
June 2011 saw an incredible campaign success for ONE and our partners. World leaders promised a remarkable $4.3 billion over the next 5 years to support the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) in their drive to save lives by making new and underused vaccines available in the world’s poorest countries. This is well over the target of $3.7 billion.
New analysis published today from the ONE Campaign shows that 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have accelerated progress in the last three years on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and 16 are on track to halve extreme poverty by 2015. But further momentum is at risk due to laggard countries where progress has stalled or gone into reverse, as governments across sub-Saharan Africa are set to fall short of their own development commitments by an estimated $243 billion by 2015.