All Woman

Save the Children saves mothers too

By Dr Cory Couillard

Wednesday, May 21, 2014    

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Mothers and children continue to face the highest risks of death due to chronic underlying challenges, including extreme poverty, weak infrastructure, and poor governance.

In 2014, more than 80 million people are projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance and over three quarters are women and children.

According to new research released Thursday at the Global Moms Relay, each day 800 mothers and 18,000 children under age five die from mostly preventable causes. This equates to one child dying every five seconds.

These statistics are increasingly worrisome with the 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline quickly approaching. The MDGs are eight goals that 194 UN Member States have agreed to make strides to achieve by the year 2015. They encompass poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women.

The aim for MDG 4 is to reduce the world's under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. The aim for MDG 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters over the same period. With less than 600 days to go to reach the deadline, only nine countries are on track to achieve the maternal survival goal.

"We have failed to engage mothers in the MDGs," explained Leith Greenslade, vice-chair at the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals at the Global Moms Relay.

While it will be a challenge to meet MDGs 4 and 5, as well as other remaining goals, success is still possible — but only if governments, NGOs and other stakeholders engage mothers. The urgent task of completing the unfinished business of the MDGs is highlighted in the new Save the Children's 15th annual State of the World's Mothers report.

"Worldwide, women and children are often much more likely than men to die in a disaster, whether man-made or natural," says Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children.

"And each year, thousands more mothers and children die in conflict-settings than fighters do in battle. We urgently need to increase access to health care in places where state capacity is weak and conflict and insecurity is widespread.

"All children have the right to survive, no matter where they are born. Many of these deaths are avoidable, and we can help to prevent them with the right plans and investments before, during, and after a crisis has hit or fighting has intensified."

The World Health Statistics 2013 report confirms 15 million newborn babies are delivered prematurely per year and as a result one million die. These staggering statistics now rank preterm birth as the world's leading killer of newborns.

Almost 15 per cent of deaths in women of reproductive age are associated with preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Annually, over 500 000 women die from complications from lifestyle induced disease and lack of care before, during and after childbirth.

Severe bleeding after birth can kill a healthy woman within two hours if she is unattended. One of the primary causes of excessive bleeding is high blood pressure and poor clotting factors in the blood. Both of these conditions can be improved, managed or reversed with improved nutritional support.

The risk of death is directly related to the access and availability of proper health care services. A woman's lifetime risk of maternal death — the probability that a 15-year-old woman will eventually die from a maternal health factor — is one in 3,800 in developed countries versus one in 150 in developing countries.

Dr Couillard is an international health columnist that works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation's goals of disease prevention and control.

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