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

Babies don’t need to die

“Millions of babies die without people realizing it can be different,” says Joy Lawn, M.D., Ph.D., of Saving Newborn Lives/Save the Children and a Countdown to 2015 member. “This is not high tech. Up to 3 million newborns each year can be saved with simple approaches, like cutting the cord with a clean blade, and kangaroo mother care where the mother acts as an incubator for her preterm baby, or antibiotics to treat infections."

A Countdown to 2015 report, due in June, will show what progress has been made toward meeting the two goals in 68 countries with the highest toll. This information will highlight service gaps and deficiencies so countries and their development partners can focus efforts on areas of greatest need.

Attacking maternal, newborn and child deaths means attention and resources. “When attention is focused on a problem and resources are mobilized, we get results,” says Mickey Chopra, M.D., Ph.D., UNICEF's chief of health, and a member of the Countdown group. “For example, immunization, use of vitamin A and treated bed nets, breast-feeding, and treatment for HIV/AIDS are way up in many countries because of resources directed to these areas.

"It's important to create a supportive environment for maternal and newborn health based on respect for women’s rights, and the need to establish continuum of care for mothers, newborns and children that integrate programs for reproductive health, safe motherhood, newborn care and child survival, growth and development."

For example, if women go to clinics with trained staff or midwives and proper equipment, an estimated 50 percent of mothers and newborns could be saved. If quality antenatal care is routinely provided for women, up to 2/3 of lives could be saved.

Donor countries have increased their giving for maternal, newborn and child health by almost 100 percent to $4 billion a year from 2003 to 2007.

However, the funding gap will be about $20 billion per year between 2011 and 2015, which includes both maternal and child health programs and the cost of improving health systems.

An innovative health financing task force set up by world leaders in 2008 already is working to increase funding to help close the gap.

“The gap is about $16 billion a year more than we are spending now, but it is not out of range,” says Dr. Bustreo.

"The emphasis is always on external aid, but internal funds are the main source of health funding. National authorities need to recognize and honor their financial commitments on maternal and child health,” says Peter Berman of the World Bank, another Countdown to 2015 member.

According to the new analysis, if the funding gap were filled by 2015, the increased funding would buy:

  • Modern methods of family planning for 50 million more couples;
  • About 234 million more births in facilities that provide quality care for both normal and complicated deliveries;
  • Quality antenatal care for an additional 276 million women;
  • Quality postnatal care for an additional 234 million women and newborn babies;
  • Appropriate treatment for 164 million cases of child pneumonia;
  • An additional 2.5 million health care professionals and 1 million more community health workers.

The results by 2015 would be enormous in the number of lives saved: up to 1 million women, 4.5 million newborn babies, and 6.5 million children aged 1 month to 5 years.