Dying: Millions of women in childbirth, newborns, and young children

No single intervention

“No single intervention is sufficient,” explains Zulfiqar Bhutta, M.D., Ph.D., of Pakistan’s Aga Khan University and co-chair of Countdown to 2015. “What is required is a seamless continuum of care including family planning, breastfeeding, hand washing, skilled attendance at delivery and childhood immunizations. There are multiple therapies and practices that have been proven to save lives and the use of national data can prioritize which ones will make the biggest difference in the shortest time.

“Even more, besides additional funding, we need political leadership to guarantee that actions will be taken and will be successful, and we need community engagement to keep leaders accountable,” Dr. Bhutta says.

The immense global toll of women and newborns has only just come to public attention, probably because maternal death and newborn death traditionally have been considered separate problems. Also, reducing maternal and newborn deaths were considered too difficult, according to some health professionals.

The new analysis details why these deaths still happen and shows how the toll can be reduced with additional political and financial support from donors and increases in health care budgets in the poorest countries.

It points out that malaria, HIV/AIDS and immunization have received major funding, including attention to drugs and commodities, and major progress was made. Maternal, newborn and child deaths remain a larger problem, yet receive less attention and funding.

Among the reasons are societal and cultural practices. Many stillbirths, newborn and maternal deaths occur at home, unseen and uncounted. The deaths of mothers, newborns and young children are accepted as part of life in some parts of the world, and birth and death certificates are not common. That is why precise data is lacking.