Efforts to boost maternal and child health falling short, UN report finds

Goal 5 of the MDGs: improve maternal health

23 June 2010 – An annual assessment report released today by the United Nations shows that while significant declines have been recorded by many countries in reducing maternal and child mortality, greater progress must be made to meet the global targets contained in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

First agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, the eight MDGs set worldwide objectives for reducing extreme poverty and hunger, improving health and education, empowering women and ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015.

According to the MDG Report 2010, launched by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York, the number of deaths among children under the age of five has dropped from 12.6 million in 1990 to an estimated 8.8 million in 2008.

The greatest advances were made in Northern Africa, Eastern Asia, Western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the countries of the Confederation of Independent States (CIS).

But most striking is the progress that has been made in some of the world’s poorest countries. Bangladesh, Bolivia, Eritrea, Laos, Malawi, Mongolia and Nepal have all reduced their under-five mortality rates by 4.5 per cent annually or more.

“Despite these achievements, and the fact that most child deaths are preventable or treatable, many countries still have unacceptably high levels of child mortality and have made little or no progress in recent years,” stated the report.

The highest rates of child mortality continue to be found in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounted for half of the 8.8 million deaths in children under five worldwide in 2008.

The publication pointed out that child deaths are not falling quickly enough to reach Goal 4, namely a two-thirds reduction in childhood mortality rates between 1990 and 2015, and millions of children continue to die each year at a tragically young age.

Likewise, progress has been recorded by many countries on maternal mortality, and the latest preliminary data indicate that some countries have achieved significant declines. Maternal health is difficult to measure but the report showed that the rural-urban gap in skilled care during childbirth has narrowed, and more women are receiving skilled health care during pregnancy.

However, it also stated that the rate of reduction in maternal deaths is still well short of the 5.5 per cent annual reduction needed to meet the target under Goal 5 – slashing maternal mortality rates by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.

Hundreds of thousands of women – 99 per cent of them in the developing world – die annually as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.

The MDG report reflects the most comprehensive, up-to-date data compiled by over 25 UN and international agencies, and has been released ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) and Group of 20 (G20) summits for leading economies, being held this weekend in Canada, which the Secretary-General will be attending.

“In Canada, I will urge leaders to support our global action plan on women’s and children’s health. In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that mothers should be dying during childbirth,” Mr. Ban told reporters as he presented the report.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), welcomed the MDG report’s indication of progress, with some nations significantly reducing maternal death ratios.

“However, as the report notes, the reductions fall far below the rates required to meet the MDG target,” she stated. “Therefore, to speed up progress, we must invest more in reproductive health for women and girls. If every woman received reproductive health care, maternal death and disability would cease to be the devastatingly common tragedy it is today.”

In April the Secretary-General launched an initiative for a joint action plan among governments, businesses, foundations and civil society organizations to advance safe motherhood worldwide.

“For too long, maternal and child health has been at the back of the MDG train,” he had stated during that launch. “But we know it can be the engine of development,” he continued, citing women as drivers of progress and healthy children as the starting point for a stronger, better educated and more productive citizenry.

Mr. Ban, who himself was born not in a hospital but at home in a small village in his native Republic of Korea, urged that everything be done to make motherhood safer for all and to end what he described as a “silent scandal.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Ban readies multifaceted campaign to combat maternal mortality

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews