This year’s World Health Report comes at a time when only a decade is left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set internationally agreed development aspirations for the world’s population to be met by 2015. These goals have underlined the importance of improving health, and particularly the health of mothers and children, as an integral part of poverty reduction.
The health of mothers and children is a priority that emerged long before the 1990s – it builds on a century of programmes, activities and experience. What is new in the last decade, however, is the global focus of the MDGs and their insistence on tracking progress in every part of the world. Moreover, the nature of the priority status of maternal and child health (MCH) has changed over time. Whereas mothers and children were previously thought of as targets for well-intentioned programmes, they now increasingly claim the right to access quality care as an entitlement guaranteed by the state. In doing so, they have transformed maternal and child health from a technical concern into a moral and political imperative.
This report identifies exclusion as a key feature of inequity as well as a key constraint to progress. In many countries, universal access to the care all women and children are entitled to is still far from realization. Taking stock of the erratic progress to date, the report sets out the strategies required for the accelerated improvements that are known to be possible. It is necessary to refocus the technical strategies developed within maternal and child health programmes, and also to put more emphasis on the importance of the often overlooked health problems of newborns. In this regard, the report advocates the repositioning of MCH as MNCH (maternal, newborn and child health).
The proper technical strategies to improve MNCH can be put in place effectively only if they are implemented, across programmes and service providers, throughout pregnancy and childbirth through to childhood. It makes no sense to provide care for a child and ignore the mother, or to worry about a mother giving birth and fail to pay attention to the health of the baby. To provide families universal access to such a continuum of care requires programmes to work together, but is ultimately dependent on extending and strengthening health systems. At the same time, placing MNCH at the core of the drive for universal access provides a platform for building sustainable health systems where existing structures are weak or fragile. Even where the MDGs will not be fully achieved by 2015, moving towards universal access has the potential to transform the lives of millions for decades to come.