News

Preventable deaths that deny us collective progress

1 October 2015

Every day, 800 women and 7700 newborns die from childbirth and pregnancy complications which are preventable; an alarming 7300 are simultaneously experiencing stillbirth - realities which should have every one of us aghast.

These are global trends today that all persons should consider unacceptable because the ripple effect of these lived experiences will prevent the realisation of healthy and sustainable societies.

Encouraging however is the fact that we know we can reverse these trends, thanks to time-bound frameworks like the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and/or the Millennium Development Goals.

This generation could make such statistics history with informed, targeted and relevant responses and for Pacific island nations, it is even more important for the resilient population we will need to have in the face of the impact of climate change. Evidence discussed in a report released on September 1 (2015) entitled Towards a New Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents Health published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) affirms that ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths is possible within a generation.

While effective care during pregnancy and around the childbirth period is critical for survival and health, well thought out and comprehensive strategies should cover the continuum of care.

Effective interventions related to pregnancy and childbirth is already a good beginning for individuals and a strong foundation for a resilient people.

Apart from improved strategies that span the continuum of care, the BMJ encourages the strengthening of health systems; ensuring quality care must reach every women and every child; harnessing the power of parents, families and communities; and strengthening data collation and its effective use to ensure informed decision-making and accountability.

With the endorsement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) late last month (September, 2015) comes the opportunity to ensure a legacy that can be celebrated: this generation can end the cruel irony of women dying from preventable causes as they gift life.

"To prevent these maternal and child mortalities, to ensure our young persons have a healthy start in life so that we can already strengthen Pacific human resource capacity and ensure a resilient population, we must address issues surrounding reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescents' health," United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Pacific Sub-Regional Office Director and Representative Dr Laurent Zessler said.

In 2010, the United Nations Secretary-General brought to the fore the unacceptably high rates of maternal and child mortality calling for a global strategy that would begin its work in the world's poorest countries which recorded some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates.

The 2010 Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health initiated the Every Women, Every Child movement propelling stakeholders in all sectors towards a common goal; national leadership and financial resources and commitment were also secured.

Complementing existing work in women's and children's health, good progress was made: between 1990 and 2013, child mortality fell by 49 per cent ad maternal mortality by 45 per cent aided by increased access to contraception and maternal and child health services, skilled attendants at birth (midwives), reduced malnutrition, newborn interventions, management of childhood illnesses, immunisations and combatting HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

Learning from lessons the 2010 global strategy on women's and children's health, the new Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health only just released will build on achievements of the last five years but now specifically includes women, children and adolescents' in fragile or humanitarian situations.

The new component of adolescence, 10 - 19 year-olds, emphasise the distinctive nature of their experience particularly in the context of fragile or humanitarian situations.

This cohort requires specific responses which takes into account their biological, emotional and social development - essentially making the health system work for them.

Three days ago, (September 28), the United Nations launched the ambitious public-private strategy (to end preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents) with initial commitments of more than US$25billion (for the next five years) to provide life-saving treatments, from immunisations to perinatal care.

The Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health includes new policies and ground-breaking partnerships from 40 countries and over 100 international organisations, philanthropic foundations, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector.

The commitments, which are expected to grow significantly in the coming years, include $3.3 billion from the United States, $2.6 billion from Canada, $2.5 billion from Sweden, $1.3 billion from Germany, $420 million from Norway, $326 million from the Netherlands, and $300 million from the Republic of Korea.

Hard-fought and at times fragile gains both at regional or national level must be maintained and boosted with targeted intervention to ensure that no one is left behind; the specificity of humanitarian situations being relevant to Pacific island countries as scientists predict increasingly intensive storms and the various facets of the impact of climate change on our island peoples.

The interplay of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescence health (RMNCAH) and climate change exists although absent from public discourse on climate change adaptation; adaptation or mitigation activities has largely been infrastructural (seawalls) or food security-related (the search for crops) to response to rising salinised water tables.

Fiji's Ministry for Health and Medical Services will start the ball rolling on addressing the gap in public discourse on the interplay between RMNCAH and climate change when it hosts a Pacific regional experts'consultation and a ministerial meeting from October 26 to 28 (2015); the UNFPA is supporting this initiative to begin discussions around this most critical of actions in climate change adaptation.

The new global strategy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to effect changes that will lead to healthy beginnings for our peoples.

Investing in childbirth and delivery will quadruple returns in terms of lives saved and stillbirth and injuries prevented.

Addressing reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescents' health is crucial for a resilient population: we know what to do to help ourselves.