Every minute, every day of the year, one woman dies in connection with childbirth. Every ten seconds, every day of the year, one child dies before the age of 28 days.
Jens Stoltenberg is appalled by the conditions the world’s poorest women and children are living under. Maternal mortality and newborn health have been one of the issues he has been most committed to for a number of years, and he praises UNICEF for placing maternal and newborn health at the top of the agenda in this year’s edition of its annual report, The State of the World’s Children. The report is being presented today.
“These are people whose fate tends to be forgotten or overshadowed by other major world problems,” Mr Stoltenberg says, commenting on the fact that over half a million women die annually in connection with childbirth, while four million newborns die each year before reaching an age of 28 days.
Mr Stoltenberg deeply deplores the fact that there has been so little progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals relating to health services for mothers and children.
- What is your radical suggestion for bringing about improvements?
“Firstly, to allocate more funding to preventive health efforts, setting up additional maternity clinics and training more midwives. Secondly, to promote better use of this funding, as we have done in a cooperation project in India. There, the women are given money if they visit a maternity clinic. They are given a reward, quite simply.
“Thirdly, to carry out awareness-raising campaigns and draw international attention to what is happening.
“Just think how women are dying alone in dark rooms while giving birth. They are being left on their own at the most critical moment of their lives. The fathers are nowhere to be seen and they may have a mother-in-law who refuses to let them go to a maternity clinic. So they end up dying, from massive blood loss or infections, all because of prejudices and ignorance,” Mr Stoltenberg says.
In his view, giving birth safely is a human right. What’s more, the measures needed to prevent one in ten women dying in connection with childbirth in the world’s poorest countries are so simple.
“And the danger is that the global financial crisis will make the weakest groups even more vulnerable.”
Africa and Asia
Once again, it is Africa and Asia that fare worst, according to the statistics. The 2009 UNICEF report shows that 95% of all those who die during childbirth worldwide come from these two continents.
Furthermore, there is a close correlation between maternal and neonatal deaths, according to UNICEF. The chances of a child born in one of the least developed countries dying before the age of 28 days are14 times greater than for a child born in an industrialised country.
UNICEF suggests a number of measures, including breaking down cultural and economic barriers so that women’s health is taken as seriously as men’s. Women must also be encouraged to participate to a greater extent in decision-making processes, and do what they can to make sure that good health care is provided for women giving birth and for newborns.
According to the report, the whole family must be engaged, including the men. Everyone must be made to see that a good start in life is not just important for the individual mother and child, but for the whole family, the whole society.
Facts: maternal mortality
- Every year, over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.
- 70 000 of these women are between the ages of 15 and 19.
- For each woman who dies, another 20 become ill or sustain serious injuries from childbirth.
- Women in Niger, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, DR Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mali are at greatest risk of dying in connection with pregnancy and childbirth.