World health report

Overview


Chapter summaries

Chapter 1. Mothers and children matter – so does their health

This chapter recalls how the health of mothers and children became a public health priority during the 20th century. For centuries, care for mothers and young children was regarded as a domestic affair, the realm of mothers and midwives. In the 20th century this purely domestic concern was transformed into a public health priority. In the opening years of the 21st century, the MDGs place it at the core of the struggle against poverty and inequality, as a matter of human rights. This shift in emphasis has far-reaching consequences for the way the world responds to the very uneven progress in different countries.

The chapter summarizes the current situation regarding the health of mothers, newborns and children. Most progress has been made by countries that were already in a relatively good position in the early 1990s, while countries that started with the highest mortality rates are also those where improvements have been most disappointing.

Globally, mortality rates in children under five years of age fell throughout the latter part of the 20th century: from 146 per 1000 live births in 1970 to 79 in 2003. Towards the turn of the millennium, however, the overall downward trend started to falter in some parts of the world. Improvements continued or accelerated in the WHO Regions of the Americas, South-East Asia and Europe, while the African, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific Regions experienced a slowing down of progress. In 93 countries, totalling 40% of the world population, under-five mortality is decreasing fast. A further 51 countries, with 48% of the world population, are making slower progress: they will only reach the MDGs if improvements are accelerated significantly. Even more worrying are the 43 countries that contain the remaining 12% of the world population, where under-five mortality was high or very high to start with and is now stagnating or reversing.

Reliable data on newborns are only recently becoming available and are more dif- ficult to interpret. The most recent estimates show that newborn mortality is considerably higher than usually thought and accounts for 40% of under-five deaths; less than 2% of newborn deaths currently occur in high income countries. The difference between rich and poor countries seems to be widening.

Over 300 million women in the world currently suffer from long-term or short-term illness brought about by pregnancy or childbirth. The 529 000 annual maternal deaths, including 68 000 deaths attributable to unsafe abortion, are even more unevenly spread than newborn or child deaths: only 1% occur in rich countries. There is a sense of progress, backed by the tracking of indicators that show increases in the uptake of care during pregnancy and childbirth in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa during the 1990s, but the overall picture shows no spectacular improvement, and the lack of reliable information on the fate of mothers in many countries – and on that of their newborns – remains appalling.

Chapter 2. Obstacles to progress: context or policy?

This chapter seeks to explain why progress in maternal and child health has apparently stumbled so badly in many countries. Slow progress, stagnation and reversal are clearly related to poverty, to humanitarian crises, and, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, to the direct and indirect effects of HIV/AIDS. These operate, at least in part, by fuelling or maintaining exclusion from care. In many countries numerous women and children are excluded from even the most basic health care benefits: those that are important for mere survival.

The specific causes, manifestations and patterns of exclusion vary from country to country. Some countries show a pattern of marginal exclusion: a majority of the population enjoys access to service networks, but substantial groups remain excluded. Other countries, often the poorest ones, show a pattern of massive deprivation: only a small minority, usually the urban rich, enjoys reasonable access, while an overwhelming majority is excluded. These countries have low density, weak and fragile health systems.

The policy challenges vary according to the different patterns of exclusion. Many countries have organized their health care systems as health districts, with a backbone of health centres and a referral district hospital. These strategies have often been so under-resourced that they failed to live up to expectations. The chapter argues that the health district model still stands as a rational way for governments to organize decentralized health care delivery, but that long-term commitment and investment are required to obtain sustained results.

Chapter 3. Great expectations: making pregnancy safer

This chapter reviews the three most important ways in which the outcomes of pregnancies can be improved: providing good antenatal care, finding appropriate ways of preventing and dealing with the consequences of unwanted pregnancies, and improving the way society looks after pregnant women.

Antenatal care is a success story: coverage throughout the world increased by 20% during the 1990s and continues to increase in most parts of the world. Concern for a good outcome of pregnancy has made women the largest group actively seeking care. Antenatal care offers the opportunity to provide much more than just pregnancyrelated care. The potential to promote healthy lifestyles is insufficiently exploited, as is the use of antenatal care as a platform for programmes that tackle malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, malaria and tuberculosis and promote family planning. Antenatal consultations are the ideal occasion to establish birth plans that can make sure the birth itself takes place in safe circumstances, and to help mothers prepare for parenting.

The chapter sets out critical directions for the future, including the need to improve the quality of care and to further increase coverage.

Even in societies that value pregnancy highly, the position of pregnant women is not always enviable. In many places there is a need to improve the social, political and legal environments so as to tackle the low status of women, gender-based violence, discrimination in the workplace or at school, or marginalization. Eliminating sources of social exclusion is as important as providing antenatal care.

Unintended, mistimed or unwanted pregnancies are estimated to number 87 million per year. There remains a huge unmet need for investment in contraception, information and education to prevent unwanted pregnancy, though no family planning policy will prevent it all. More than half of the women concerned, 46 million per year, resort to induced abortion: that 18 million do so in unsafe circumstances constitutes a major public health problem. It is possible, however, to avoid all of the 68 000 deaths as well as the disabilities and suffering that go with unsafe abortions. This is not only a question of how a country defines what is legal and what is not, but also of guaranteeing women access, to the fullest extent permitted by law, to good quality and responsive abortion and post-abortion care.

Chapter 4. Attending to 136 million births, every year

This chapter analyses the major complications of childbirth and the main causes of maternal mortality. Direct causes of maternal mortality include haemorrhage, infection, eclampsia, obstructed labour and unsafe abortion. Childbirth is a moment of great risks, but in many situations over half of maternal deaths occur during the postpartum period. Effective interventions exist to avoid most of the deaths and long-term disabilities attributable to childbirth. The history of successes in reducing maternal and newborn mortalities shows that skilled professional care during and after childbirth can make the difference between life and death for both women and their newborn babies. The converse is true as well: a breakdown of access to skilled care may rapidly lead to an increase of unfavourable outcomes.

All mothers and newborns, not just those considered to be at particular risk of developing complications, need skilled maternal and neonatal care: close to where and how they live, close to their birthing culture, but at the same time safe, with a skilled professional able to act immediately when complications occur. Such birthing care can best be provided by a registered midwife or a professional health worker with equivalent skills, in midwife-led facilities. These professionals can avert, contain or solve many of the largely unpredictable life-threatening problems that may arise during childbirth and thus reduce maternal mortality to surprisingly low levels. But they do need the back-up only a hospital can provide to help mothers who present problems that go beyond their competency or equipment. All women need first-level maternal care, and only in a minority of cases is back-up care necessary, but to be effective both need to work in tandem, and have to be extended simultaneously. In many countries uptake of postpartum care is even lower than of care at childbirth. This is an area of crucial importance with much scope for improvement.

Chapter 5. Newborns: no longer going unnoticed

Until recently, there has been little real effort to tackle the specific health problems of newborns. A lack of continuity between maternal and child health programmes has allowed care of the newborn to fall through the cracks.

Each year nearly 3.3 million babies are stillborn, and over 4 million more die within 28 days of coming into the world. Deaths of babies during this neonatal period are as numerous as those in the following 11 months or those among children aged 1–4 years. Skilled professional care during pregnancy, at birth and during the postnatal period is as critical for the newborn baby as it is for its mother. The challenge is to find a better way of establishing continuity between care during pregnancy, at birth, and when the mother is at home with her baby. While the weakest link in the care chain is skilled attendance at birth, care during the early weeks of life is also problematic because professional and programmatic responsibilities are often not clearly delineated.

The chapter presents a set of benchmarks for the needs in human resources and service networks to provide first level and back-up maternal and newborn care to all. In many countries there are major shortages in facilities and, crucially, human resources. Using a set of scenarios to scale up towards universal access to both firstlevel and back-up maternal and newborn care in 75 countries, it seems realistic for coverage to increase from its present 43% (with a limited package of care) to around 73% (with a full package of care) in 2015. Implementing these scenarios would cost US$ 1 billion in 2006, increasing, as coverage expands, to US$ 6 billion in 2015: a total of US$ 39 billion over ten years, in addition to present expenditure on maternal and newborn health. This corresponds to an extra outlay of around US$ 0.22 per inhabitant per year initially, increasing to US$ 1.18 in 2015. A preliminary estimate of the potential impact of this scaling up suggests a reduction of maternal mortality, in these 75 countries, from a 2000 aggregate level of 485 to 242 per 100 000 births, and of neonatal mortality from 35 to 29 per 1000 live births by 2015.

Chapter 6. Redesigning child care: survival, growth and development

Increased knowledge means that technically appropriate, effective interventions for reducing child mortality and improving child health are available. It is now necessary to implement them on a much larger scale.

This chapter explains how in the 1970s and 1980s vertical programmes have undeniably allowed fast and significant results. The Expanded Programme on Immunization and initiatives to implement oral rehydration therapy, for example, with a combination of state-of-the-art management and simple technologies based on solid research, were adopted and promoted to great effect.

For all their impressive results, however, the inherent limitations of vertical approaches became apparent. At the same time, it became clear that a more comprehensive approach to the needs of the child was desirable, both to improve outcomes and to respond to a genuine demand from families. The response was to package a set of simple, affordable and effective interventions for the combined management of the major childhood illnesses and malnutrition, under the label of Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI). IMCI combined interventions designed to prevent deaths, taking into account the changing profile of mortality causes, but it also comprised of interventions and approaches to improve children’s healthy growth and development. More than just adding extra programmes to a single delivery channel, IMCI has gone a step further and has sought to transform the way the health system looks at child care, spanning a continuum of care from the family and community to the first-level health facility and on to referral facilities, with an emphasis on counselling and problem solving.

Many children still do not benefit from comprehensive and integrated care. As child health programmes continue to move towards integration it is necessary to progress towards universal coverage. Scaling up a set of essential interventions to full coverage would bring down the incidence and case fatality of the conditions causing children under five years of age to die, to a level that would permit countries to move towards and beyond the MDGs. This will not be possible without a massive increase of expenditure on child health. Implementing scenarios to reach full coverage in 75 countries would cost US$ 2.2 billion in 2006, increasing, as coverage expands, to US$ 7.8 billion in 2015: a total of US$ 52.4 billion over 10 years, in addition to present expenditure on child health. This corresponds to an extra outlay of around US$ 0.47 per inhabitant per year initially, expanding to US$ 1.48 in 2015.

Chapter 7. Reconciling maternal, newborn and child health with health system development

This last chapter looks at the place of maternal, newborn and child health within the broader context of health system development. Today, the maternal, newborn and child health agendas are no longer discussed in purely technical terms, but as part of a broader agenda of universal access. This frames it within a straightforward political project: responding to society’s demand for the protection of the health of citizens and access to care, a demand that is increasingly seen as legitimate.

Universal access requires a sufficiently dense health care network to supply services. The critical challenge is to put in place the health workforce required for scaling up. The most visible features of the health workforce crisis in many countries are the staggering shortages and imbalances in the distribution of health workers. Filling these gaps will remain a major challenge for years to come. Part of the problem is that sustainable ways have to be devised of offering competitive remuneration and incentive packages that can attract, motivate and retain competent and productive health workers. In many of the countries where progress towards the MDGs is disappointing, very substantial increases in the remuneration packages of health personnel are urgently needed, a challenge of a magnitude that many poor countries cannot face alone.

Universal access, however, is more than deploying an effective workforce to supply services. For health services to be taken up, financial barriers to access have to be reduced or eliminated and users given predictable protection against the costs of seeking care. The chapter shows that by and large the introduction of user fees is not a viable answer to the underfunding of the health sector, and institutionalizes exclusion of the poor. It does not accelerate progress towards universal access and financial protection; this can be guaranteed only through generalized prepayment and pooling schemes. Whichever system is adopted to organize these schemes, two things are important. First, ultimately no population groups should be excluded; second, maternal, newborn and child health services should be at the core of the set of services to which citizens are entitled and which are financed in a coherent way through the selected system.

With time, most countries move towards universal coverage, widening prepayment and pooling schemes, in parallel with the extension of their health care supply networks. This also has consequences for the funding flows directed towards maternal, newborn and child health. In most countries, financial sustainability for maternal, newborn and child health can best be achieved in the short and middle term by looking at all sources of funding: external and domestic, public and private. Channelling funds towards generalized insurance schemes that both fund the expansion of health care networks and provide financial protection, offers most guarantees for sustainable financing of maternal, newborn and child health and of the health systems on which it depends.

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