Maternal & Child Health
Each year, an estimated 358,000 women die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth and more than 7 million children die before their fifth birthdays. Most of these deaths are entirely preventable and occur in developing countries. Too many mothers lose their lives during or immediately after childbirth to excessive bleeding, high blood pressure, prolonged and obstructed labor, or infections. Many more infants and children die needlessly from preterm birth, severe infections, asphyxia, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition.
Maternal, neonatal, and under-five mortality rates are highest in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In contrast, such mortality rates are low or nonexistent in industrialized nations. In fact, children born in low-income countries are nearly 18 times more likely to die before age five than children born in high-income countries.
Improving maternal health and reducing child mortality worldwide are among the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set forth in 2000. The MDGs form a blueprint for the world’s nations to reverse poverty, hunger, and disease affecting billions of people around the world. Specific targets to be achieved by 2015 include:
- reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters;
- achieving universal access to reproductive health; and
- reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds.
Some progress has been made—for example, maternal deaths worldwide have dropped by one third since 1990. However, far more attention and action is needed to meet the MDGs and to raise maternal and child health in low-resource countries to a level equitable with the rest of the world.
Many evidence-based solutions to the maternal and child health challenges facing low-income countries are within reach. To thrive, infants and children need access to:
- adequate nutrition
- exclusive breastfeeding
- safe drinking water and food
- adequate sanitation and hygiene
- skilled health care providers
- voluntary family planning services to delay, space, or limit pregnancies
- antenatal care in pregnancy
- skilled care during childbirth
- quality postpartum care and support