Every day 1,500 women and more than 10,000 babies die from preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Many more women are left disabled.
Indigenous women face particular discrimination and difficulties accessing services, putting them at higher risk of death or disability.
Nearly ten million children under the age of five also die every year – nine out of ten of their deaths are from just six diseases, and almost all could be prevented with simple, low-cost solutions.
A few countries have made significant progress on maternal health. However, global rates have shown little improvement in recent decades.
Basic obstetric care at a health centre and the presence of a midwife could save the lives of countless women and their infants. And, when a new mother dies, it also increases the likelihood that her child’s life will be cut short.
Many indigenous women are put off using ‘modern’ health services because of distance, discrimination, language and cultural differences. They often use traditional birthing practices instead – sometimes with complications.
There has been some progress in child health. Deaths of under-five year olds have gone down in East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, but there has been almost no progress in sub-Saharan Africa.
At current rates, the Millennium Development Goal to reduce child deaths by two thirds won’t be achieved until 2045! Poor health in childhood also has lasting consequences, stunting growth and development, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty into another generation.
Health Poverty Action says:
Health services and family planning advice need to be local, and culturally appropriate, so indigenous and other marginalised or remote groups of women can, and want to, get help when they need it for themselves and their children.
Decision makers must recognise the relationship between maternal health, gender inequality and the education of girls. The drive to improve maternal and child health must be integrated with efforts to tackle other health challenges such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.
Sustained pressure on governments is vital to ensure maternal and child health is pushed higher up national and international agendas.
Skilled care by a qualified midwife, nurse or doctor during pregnancy and childbirth is critical. Amid a worldwide shortage of health workers, more midwives in particular are needed. Improving the training, salaries and working conditions of health workers is essential.
Access to antibiotics, measles vaccines and dehydration salts would drastically reduce deaths in under fives from pneumonia, measles and diarrhoea.
Traditional birth attendants play an important role in many poor communities. They should be trained and supported so that they can help reduce maternal deaths and encouraged to work with skilled health workers where possible.
Access to information and treatment to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child needs to be increased.
Good nutrition, clean water and sanitation are particularly important for women during and after pregnancy, and for newborn and young children.
Rich governments and institutions urgently need to help strengthen developing country health systems through long-term and sustained investment, and address the underlying poverty that perpetuates ill health.