Every year, almost 300,000 women die due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth and close to 7.6 million children die before they reach five years of age. Of these deaths, 99% are in the developing world. So why is it happening?
Tragically, there has been little change in the annual number of women dying from pregnancy related causes over the past 20 years, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, despite awareness of what works to save women’s lives.
Women are often unaware or have no decision-making power about the importance of antenatal care and having a skilled birthing attendant present during childbirth. They might not have access to information about HIV, child spacing and exclusive breastfeeding, and often are not able to negotiate safe sex or refuse unwanted sex due to gender dynamics.
Newborns and children are suffering too. According to UNICEF, 7.6 million children die before the age of five every year. One of the main reasons for this is that poor families and communities often lack access to the treatment, care and health education required to keep children healthy.
The causes of infant mortality are diverse. Contributing factors will sometimes include poor maternal nutrition, bad hygiene habits stretching back generations, and how governments are prioritising healthcare. The most common causes of child and maternal mortality include:
- Poor access to healthcare including lack of skilled attendants. Worldwide, 40% of mothers still give birth without a skilled attendant at their delivery
- Poor knowledge about caring for children that can lead to malnutrition
- Limited education about preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, infections that kill 40% of children under five
- Difficulty maintaining immunisations against preventable diseases like tetanus and measles
- Low levels of government funding of health. In the developing world, most governments allocate less than the minimum that is required for improvements.
Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable members of any community so they’re hardest hit by health issues. In the developing world – where reliable healthcare and medical knowledge are difficult to get – mothers and their children are the most vulnerable to infrastructure problems.
The solutions to maternal and child deaths are well known, proven and cost effective. The right interventions have already led to the reduction in child-deaths worldwide: countries such as the Maldives, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Peru and Vietnam have reduced their child deaths by over two-thirds since 1990.
But in many developing countries, the government-led healthcare systems are simply not effectively meeting the health needs of their country’s communities, mothers and children.
As a child-focused agency, all of World Vision’s actions seek to ensure and promote the wellbeing of children by supporting families and communities to address the causes of poverty in sustainable ways. World Vision believes that good health is fundamental to breaking the cycle of poverty and is a crucial element of child wellbeing.
We know that the health of children is closely linked to that of their mothers, so addressing preventable child deaths means addressing both maternal and child health together.
World Vision’s Child Health Now campaign seeks to improve the health of mothers and children, by working with communities and governments to bring about change.