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Mother and Child Health: Progress Slow and Still Inadequate


First, let's take a look at the statistics. Despite the progress made, millions of women and children are still suffering and dying every day due to easily preventable and treatable conditions. Every year

  • 300,000 women still die during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period
  • 6.6 million children die before their fifth birthday

Progress has been particularly slow on reducing mortality among mothers (Millennium Development Goal [MDG] 5, improve maternal health) and newborn infants (MDG 4, reduce child mortality).

While the 47% decline in maternal mortality since 1990 represents clear improvement, current progress is too slow to achieve the MDG target of a 75% reduction by 2015.

2.9 million newborn babies die in the first 28 days of life every year.

2.6 million babies are stillborn each year, dying in the final 3 months of pregnancy or during labour.

15,000 children are born and die every day without their existence being recorded.

At least 200 million women and girls have no access to the family planning services that would allow them to decide how many children they will have and how to prevent or space out their pregnancies.  

Fifteen months before the MDG target date, we know that MDG4 and MDG5 will not be achieved.

In this context, and in support of the Every Mother, Every Child movement launched by the UN Secretary-General, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) is holding a Partner's Forum in Johannesburg bringing together 800 leaders and health experts from all over the world to review the new data available and discuss strategies for promoting and accelerating improvements in maternal, newborn and child health.   

The Countdown 2015 report presented today, which measures the levels of coverage of health interventions that have proved effective in reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality, shows that considerable differences persist in the 75 countries where most mother and child deaths occur. In fact, more than half of all mothers and children in the poorest 20% of the population in those countries have received two or fewer of the eight interventions considered essential for the prevention and treatment of the most common causes of maternal and infant death. These interventions include vaccines, professional medical care during delivery, treatment for pneumonia and diarrhoea, and access to family planning services.  By contrast, in nearly all the Countdown 2015 countries, the majority of the women and children in the richest groups receive most or all of these key interventions. It is encouraging to see that some countries—including Bolivia, Cambodia and Niger—are beginning to expand their coverage of these interventions with programmes targeting the most disadvantaged sectors of society. This is an essential strategy for any country that aspires to achieve real progress in the reduction of inequalities. The need to combat health inequity, which is an obstacle to progress and is particularly obvious in the field of maternal and child health, is high on the conference agenda.

In another area of action at the meeting, commitments are being made to provide financial and policy support for the implementation of the new WHO initiative aimed at improving neonatal health. In the framework of the Every Mother, Every Child movement, the Every Newborn Action Plan has been launched to establish a roadmap up to 2035 for improving maternal and newborn health. The aim is to achieve this improvement through cost-effective neonatal care interventions, improved health systems, and by promoting research into new and more effective interventions and making these accessible to pregnant women and newborn infants.

In her first public appearance since the death of Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, the Chair of PMNCH, said in her opening remarks: "The world has made remarkable progress to improve health and expand opportunities over the past 14 years. Despite all efforts, there is still much more to be done. Women and children have not been covered adequately. We must ensure that all women, adolescent girls, children and newborns, no matter where they live, are able to fulfil their rights to health and education, and realize their full potential."

The General Assembly of the United Nations in September will be the next opportunity to continue to argue why, in the context of post-2015 development, the health and rights of women and children should not only remain on the agenda but should be given priority.

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