Maternal health - Brush up on the evidence before the summits

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Read ten reasons you should care about maternal health and the G8 in Best Health magazine with information from Susan White, CWHN's Executive Director

With the start of the G8/G20 summits in Ontario just around the corner, the topic of maternal and child health and Canada’s most recent commitments to furthering these goals have received widespread coverage in the media. Before the summits begin, CWHN has compiled some key facts and readings to consider.

In the year 2000, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were endorsed by all 192 member states of the United Nations. These international development goals are aimed at improving the conditions of the world’s poorest nations in measurable ways by the year 2015.

But ten years after the original MDGs were set, goals 4 and 5 – improving maternal health and reducing child mortality - are considered by many to be the furthest behind. Read what progress has been made in the just released report Countdown to 2015: taking stock of maternal, newborn & child survival


Why does maternal and child health need to be a priority?

“Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.”
 -World Health Organization

As routine as they may seem to be in areas with good medical services in Canada, pregnancy, childbirth, and early childhood are still fraught with extreme health risks in many developing countries.

Some facts from the WHO:
-         Every day, 1500 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.
-         In 2005, there were an estimated 536 000 maternal deaths worldwide.
-         99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
-         In Niger a woman’s lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications is 1 in 7 versus 1 in 48 000 in Ireland.
-         Most of these deaths were avoidable.

Statistics show that haemorrhage, infection, and unsafe abortion are direct causes of many of these maternal deaths, but these causes are rooted in the lack of accessible, affordable, quality family planning and care. A preventable tragedy on their own, it is also worth noting that maternal deaths put the lives of any surviving children at risk. According to the WHO, the one million children left motherless each year are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers' death.


What needs to be done to improve the situation?

Countries have committed to reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015. However, between 1990 and 2005 the maternal mortality ratio declined by only 5%. To achieve the goal, progress will have to increase markedly.

In July 2009, G8 countries (which include Canada) endorsed a consensus document with the aim of “Bold, focused and co-ordinated action on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health” Read the consensus here:

Health researchers and organizations have stressed the need to provide a full continuum of care – in pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, birth, postnatal, infancy and childhood – to save women's and children's lives and health. Among them the practical needs identified are:

-         Ability to plan for pregnancies, meaning modern methods of family planning/contraception and access to safe abortion where legal
-         Adequate nutrition for mothers and children across the spectrum of pregnancy
-         Quality care, including antenatal and postnatal care, and facilities that care for both normal and complicated births
-         Adequate health care professionals and community health workers to serve populations
-         Removing barriers to accessing all these services
-         Progress on Millennium Development Goal 3 - Gender equality

Research from the Guttmacher Institute recently presented in a CWHN webinar by Katherine McDonald, Executive Director of Action Canada for Population and Development, demonstrates how addressing this full continuum of care provides the maximum benefit to both health, and costs. Watch the webinar here.


Who is working on the issue?

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health is a new global health partnership launched in September 2005 to accelerate efforts towards achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5.

Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization bringing together voices from around the world to call for action against maternal death. They recently held their 2010 conference, at which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Melinda Gates called for major investments in women’s health.

Action Canada for Population and Development is a human rights advocacy organization that seeks to enhance the quality of life of women, men and children by promoting progressive policies in the field of international development with a primary focus on reproductive and sexual rights and health and an emerging focus on international migration and development.

The International Women’s Health Program at the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada uses a rights-based approach to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe motherhood and newborn health.


Where to learn more:

To find out more about the current state of maternal and child health, the progress made and the needs remaining, we suggest the resources below:

WHO – Maternal Health section

WHO - Child Health section

Countdown to 2015: taking stock of maternal, newborn & child survival

Women and Health – Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda

“Maternal mortality for 181 countries, 1980—2008: a systematic analysis of progress towards Millennium Development Goal 5”