The numbers are shocking. Each year, 2.8 million babies die during their first 28 days of life, while almost 800 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth.
A vast majority of these deaths are preventable through simple interventions: providing mothers and their children with access to basic, quality health care, especially during pregnancy and childbirth; encouraging mothers to breastfeed; and treating diarrhea and pneumonia, two of the leading killers of children under 5 years of age.
Despite the impressive progress that has been made in recent years, achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (MDGs 4, 5 and 6) by 2015 will require an all-out global push.
In June, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a major realignment of US$2.9 billion of its resources to “save up to half of a million children from preventable deaths by the end of 2015.” In addition, USAID introduced an ambitious strategy, Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths, to dramatically increase progress in 24 countries that account for 70 percent of child and maternal deaths.
This is an important policy shift — one that has the potential to have great impact on development by saving the lives of 15 million children and nearly 600,000 women by 2020. FHI 360, a member of the Advisory Group for Acting on the Call, supports USAID’s commitment. We have seen how evidence-based interventions in maternal, newborn and child health are making a difference in communities around the world.
In Africa, FHI 360’s USAID-supported Zambia Prevention, Care and Treatment Partnership (ZPCT II) project is ensuring access to maternal health services, even in the most remote villages. For example, in the northern Mansa District, twelve motorcycles and three traditional ambulances transport pregnant women to trained birth attendants. In a country where the risk of maternal death is 65 times greater than that of women in the United States, this project has contributed to a 35 percent increase in women giving birth in health facilities across Zambia.
Our Alive & Thrive project in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Vietnam, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is using innovative and targeted interpersonal and mass communication campaigns to mobilize and educate communities about breastfeeding and other optimal infant and young child feeding practices.
Globally, FHI 360’s USAID-supported Food and Nutritional Technical Assistance III (FANTA) project has focused on the development of new methods to identify dietary gaps and reduce micronutrient deficiencies, which can improve the health of mothers and their children. We are researching the impact of lipid-based nutrient supplements and disseminating the most up-to-date, relevant information to a wide range of nutrition stakeholders.
Other FHI 360 work that is making a difference in the lives of women and children is in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene to reduce diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections. By providing greater access to family planning, we are seeing more healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy. Essential newborn care and emergency and obstetric newborn care is preventing maternal and child deaths. Strong partnerships with the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID and others make this work more powerful and effective.
As world leaders meet this week for the United Nations General Assembly, it is critical to turn conversation into action by reinvigorating commitments to MDGs 4, 5 and 6 and looking ahead to ensuring that maternal and child health is a core part of the post-2015 development agenda. A stronger collective effort is needed to save even more mothers and children around the world.