Every Newborn: An action plan to end preventable deaths

Integrating maternal and newborn care: Strengthening the continuum


Countries are taking forward the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health by strengthening maternal and newborn health programmes. To support and guide country actions, the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) and the Strategies for Ending Preventable Maternal Morality (EPMM) working groups hosted a side session at the 68th World Health Assembly: Integrating maternal and newborn care: Strengthening the continuum.

The event opened with Rajiv Bahl, Acting Director MCA, WHO, welcoming 200 participants to discuss how unacceptable levels of maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirths impede the realization of healthy and sustainable societies. Yet 15 of the 18 countries, with the greatest burden of deaths and mortality rates, have taken concrete action. As moderator, Robin Gorna, Executive Director of the Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health, underlined the importance of hearing from countries on success factors particularly through improving the quality and coverage of care through integrated strategies and programmes. She reflected on the synergies between these two strategies advancing efforts: ENAP discussed and endorsed at the World Health Assembly in 2014; and the EPMM launched this year at World Health Assembly.

The first speaker, André Mama Fouda, Minister of Health, Cameroon, emphasized the importance of integrating maternal and newborn health into existing health services such as HIV and malaria. He also noted that they have finalized an operational action plan for improving newborn health for rapid deployment in priority health districts, as informed by a bottleneck analysis of specific interventions. Cameroon is also revitalising their midwifery programme to develop capacity building of health care providers.

Providing a comprehensive overview of the programmes being implemented to improve the health of women and children, Jean Kalilani, Minister of Health, Malawi, highlighted the importance of country ownership and community participation. Scaling up high impact, feasible interventions, such as long acting, reversible contraception methods, HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and Kangaroo Mother Care for preterm babies among others, will be key to success; yet more health workers are needed especially those with midwifery skills to provide quality care in pregnancy and birth. Malawi will launch their national ENAP on July 16, 2015, which will build into existing reproductive and maternal health strategies.

The Minister of Health from Peru, Aníbal Velásquez Valdivia, underscored that the importance of free access to basic health care for women’s and children’s health, which requires financial investments to provide quality public health services. Peru offers a Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme, which includes free access to basic health care for children younger than 5 years as well as for pregnant women, while giving priority to vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty.

These country examples show the commitment to improve maternal and newborn health but we need to do more, says Nina Schwalbe, Principal Adviser, Health, UNICEF. She cited examples such as neonatal tetanus , which is preventable, low cost and yet there were still countries that have not achieved elimination, showing vast inequities remain. She emphasized that we can’t take care of the child unless we take care of the mother. Supporting the need to improve integration efforts, Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, highlighted the challenges of fragmentation across UN agencies, health care professions and all stakeholders. In order to put women and children at the centre, she noted that we must accompany them across the full life course from birth through adolescence through pregnancy and beyond. Calling for every birth to be recorded, Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid, focused on ensuring high quality health care for Every Woman, Every Child, Everywhere – including fragile states where nearly half of these deaths take place.

Finally, Marleen Temmerman, Director RHR, WHO, concluded the session with powerful photos of the reality on the ground. A sobering reminder that action is needed by everyone now to end preventable maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths.

Comments from the floor included Save the Children, International Confederation of Midwives, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, YWCA, UNAIDS and others.