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:

  • vaccination
  • adequate nutrition
  • exclusive breastfeeding
  • safe drinking water and food
  • adequate sanitation and hygiene
  • antibiotics
  • skilled health care providers

Mothers require:

  • voluntary family planning services to delay, space, or limit pregnancies
  • antenatal care in pregnancy
  • skilled care during childbirth
  • quality postpartum care and support
  • Resource

    This infographic highlights K4Health's Toolkits collection of trusted online resources.

  • Blog post

    Bill and Melinda Gates recently released their 2014 Annual Letter (also available in PDF, but I recommend viewing it online to participate in the quizzes and watch the videos). In it, they debunk three myths about global poverty:

    Myth 1: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor

    Myth 2: Foreign aid is a big waste

    Myth 3: Saving lives leads to overpopulation

    Not only does the letter present the data to bust these myths, it is bookended with an appeal for readers to speak up when they hear inaccuracies about these persistent myths by contacting policymakers and speaking up in online forums.

    In that spirit, and as part of K4Health’s continuous effort to share accurate, up-to-date knowledge and tools to strengthen family planning and other public health efforts worldwide, here are some additional resources to help you debunk Myth 3.

    For an easy-to-follow primer on why “ending population growth starts by saving the poorest children,” watch this short video by Hans Rosling from Gapminder:

  • Toolkit

    This package of materials is designed to provide the tools necessary to begin the implementation of respectful maternity care in your area of work or influence. Using the tools in this toolkit, one can help to change and develop attitudes in oneself and among colleagues and other stakeholders in the care of women and their newborns.

  • Blog post

    Following on the heels of my recent blog about the Philippines signing into law the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, comes news that the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously passed in March the Reproductive Healthcare and Rights Act 2013.

    Let’s hope that unlike the Philippines Act—now in legal limbo for 120 days while the court looks over some 10 petitions filed against the constitutionality of the law—Pakistan’s bold Private Member Bill will be implemented soon.

    Pakistani Mother Receives Family Planning Counseling

    At a Basic Health Unit in Punjab Province, Pakistan, 23-year-old Tahira Rashid receives counseling by Dr. Fauzia Amin, a female medical officer.

    © 2012 Derek Brown for USAID, Courtesy of Photoshare


    Introduced by Hon. Dr. Attiya  Inayatullah, MP, the Bill seeks to promote reproductive healthcare and rights in accordance with the national constitution and to fulfill international commitments made by the Government of Pakistan under the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  (Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, the U.S. has yet to ratify CEDAW.)   

    A major section of the Bill is titled “Promotion of Reproductive Health Care Rights” and says that:

    • Men and women are the subject of reproductive health care, their joint involvement in responsible parenting is essential, as also, their need for access to information;
    • Male involvement is essential in the attainment of reproductive health care rights; and
    • It is important to develop public awareness that maternal deaths are preventable and the suffering of women and children avoidable.

  • Blog post

    This week, maternal and child health experts convened in Chicago to discuss the striking effect of socioeconomic status on maternal and child health. This panel was organized through a partnership among Save the Children and several Chicago universities, called Chicago Goes Global! The discussion highlighted synergies between health challenges in inner city Chicago and those in developing countries.

    A child in the United States of America

    A child in the United States of America.

    © 2011 moriahnoelle, Courtesy of Photoshare

    Poverty affects child development more than complications associated with pre-term delivery

    Dr. Michael Schreiber, a University of Chicago neonatologist and professor of Pediatrics, followed a cohort of pre-term infants to school age to track long-term development, and the findings were jolting. Two-thirds of premature babies born with respiratory problems were developmentally ready for school at the appropriate age due to advances in neonatal care, but children living in poverty were four times less likely to be ready for school than their financially stable peers.

  • Blog post

    Perspective of a student intern in Bangladesh.

    Bangladesh is a land of stark differences. Deep divides between socio-economic classes and, more importantly, even deeper divides in access to quality healthcare exist between rural and urban areas. Additionally, an inequity which might be less obvious but possibly of crucial importance, is the difference in performance between Frontline Health Workers (FHWs) in rural versus peri-urban and urban areas.

    Populations are less densely populated in rural areas and even the lowest level government FHWs tend to be much better compensated on average than the populations they serve. Which is why, it is not uncommon to find FHWs who live quite far from the areas they serve in the interest of better schools for their children or more amenities such as electricity to enjoy.

  • Blog post

    Last Thursday in Chicago, my friend Danielle gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Sam via an emergency C-section six weeks before her due date, safely concluding a high-risk pregnancy that had involved several hospital stays. Roughly 800 other expectant mothers around the world died in childbirth that day, many without the presence of a skilled birth attendant. The majority of these maternal deaths occurred in developing countries, and most could have been prevented with access to basic health services including prenatal care, skilled childbirth attendance, and family planning.  

    Two days before Sam was born, many of the roughly 70,000 women giving birth in India that sweltering Tuesday were plunged into darkness as countless homes, health centers, and hospitals in India lost power completely or were forced to operate on backup generators when the country suffered the worst blackout in its history. More than half of India’s population—600 million people—were affected. The Washington Post noted that this blackout was the largest in global history, leaving nearly 1 in 10 people in the world without power. In India and other countries around the world, as population growth outpaces the development of infrastructure, situations like this will become increasingly commonplace.

    Woman and child search for drinking water in India

    A young woman and child search for drinking water across Machal Lake in India.

    © 2009 Kailash Mittal, Courtesy of Photoshare

    Meanwhile in the U.S., where population growth is leveling off, officials have declared more than half of all U.S. counties disaster areas this summer due to the extreme drought, which has ravaged the country’s agriculture and will likely send food prices soaring. The hardships inflicted by this drought seem minor compared to last year’s drought in East Africa, which caused a severe food crisis in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya; threatened the livelihoods of almost 10 million people; heightened the already crushing refugee crisis in Kenya; and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, many of them infants and children suffering from extreme malnutrition. Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, attributed the severity of the crisis to global warming. A newly published statistical analysis by NASA scientist James Hansen also attributes the 2012 U.S. drought and several other recent droughts around the world to global warming, a result of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Blog post

    Today in USAID's ImpactBlog, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah writes from the London Summit on Family Planning. Dr. Shah's post discusses the the relationship between family planning, ending preventable child death, decreasing maternal death, and stabilizing a society's prosperity:

  • Blog post

    Presenting data in a visually engaging way can help audiences understand it better.[1] This new animated infographic from Marie Stopes International is a great example. It shows the relationship between Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in ten countries over a 35-year period.