With Maternal Mortality ‘World’s Worst Health Inequity’, UN Working to Ensure Every Pregnancy, Birth Safe, Says Deputy Secretary-General at New York Event

15 June 2009

With Maternal Mortality ‘World’s Worst Health Inequity’, UN Working to Ensure Every Pregnancy, Birth Safe, Says Deputy Secretary-General at New York Event

15 June 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at a luncheon to launch the 2009 Report of the Global Campaign for the Health Millennium Development Goals on 15 June:

It is a pleasure to be here with all of you this afternoon to take part in the launch of the 2009 Report of the Global Campaign for the Health Millennium Development Goals.

I thank Norway and other partners for all of your work to reduce maternal mortality and improve women’s health.

I also wish to take this opportunity to thank Secretary-General Ban for making MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) his priority and for his continuous leadership that has enabled my office to work with others to address the MDG 5 with other colleagues

As the Secretary-General said, this is an issue that is very close to all of us.  My formative professional experience was working as a Legal Aid attorney, and I will never forget the heartbroken families who came to see me seeking redress after their loved ones had died in childbirth.

I understand their pain even more now because I, too, have lost friends.  Not in the villages, either, but in the cities, where you might think the services are far better.

In far too many parts of the world, when a woman goes into labour, relatives and friends do not go so far as to say goodbye, but they are often thinking, is this the last time they will see her?  And the reverse is also true.  I do not know how His Excellency the Permanent Representative [of Norway] knew that I had also a personal experience.  When I was giving birth to my second child, I had the same fear.  I was wondering whether I would get out of the room alive, whether my kids would survive, and this is just a few years ago, just about ten years ago.  Isn’t if an irony that, just as we celebrate an impending birth, we fear an imminent death.

When I had the privilege to serve as Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children in my own country, Tanzania, we confronted this problem head-on.  I do know that some of you are aware of the Day of the African Child.  In Tanzania, we made our commemoration meaningful by using the Day to assess the real situation of children in our country.

In a way, we already knew how grave maternal deaths were, because it was just so common for communities to lose mothers.

But it was important to get an accurate measurement so that we could make the policy decisions in response.  So we went down to the village level and gathered comprehensive statistics on pregnancies, birth attendants at clinics, safe delivery, infant survival and other factors.

This information helped us determine the best course of action.  Not only to stop maternal deaths, but also to achieve progress in other areas, like education and broader health needs.

As the Secretary-General has said, MDG 5 is the mother of all MDGs.  I am happy to acknowledge the presence of my compatriot, Honorable Margaret Sitta, who, having served as Minister responsible for Education and Vocational Training, is now Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children

Truly, again, as the Secretary-General said this morning, by caring for mothers we foster stability and economic growth.  Women and mothers hold families, communities and societies together.

Women in Africa carry on their heads, or in their arms, two thirds of all the goods transported around the continent.  And they produce 80 per cent of Africa’s food.  In South-East Asia, women grow 90 per cent of the rice.

Women are indeed the economic heart of the developing world.

And because they are raising children -- all across the world -- women are also the key to a sustainable future.

Ensuring a woman’s safe pregnancy and childbirth directly improves her baby’s chances of surviving and thriving.  That is because mothers feed their children, send them to school and take them for vaccinations.

We know all of this, and yet 1,400 women still die each day in childbirth in the developing world.  Almost all of these deaths could be prevented.

We know what needs to be done.  We have seen improvements in countries as diverse as Rwanda, Egypt and Malaysia.   Tunisia reduced its maternal mortality rate by 80 per cent with a comprehensive strategy emphasizing skilled attendants at delivery and voluntary family planning.

Globally, we need an estimated 1 million extra health-care workers to provide the services needed to reduce maternal and child mortality.  This goal sounds daunting, but we can reach it if we pull together.

Momentum is building.  Your influence, your individual passion and your institutional commitment can help us succeed.  Together, we can achieve a long-overdue breakthrough for women and children in the developing world.  The consensus outlined in this Report provides a clear way forward.

Now is the time.  Women and children are facing even graver health threats because of the global economic downturn.  Even before the crisis, women made up 60 per cent of the world’s poor, and maternal mortality was the worst health inequity in the world.

The gap between rich and poor will only deepen if we do not act immediately.  A woman from Niger, and even my own country, Tanzania, has a much higher likelihood of dying in childbirth than a woman from Norway.

Norway and many other countries are trying to help those less fortunate mothers to survive.

The United Nations is supporting national efforts towards this end.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), the United Nations Population Fund and the World Health Organization have teamed up with the World Bank to boost support to countries and reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

They are working to help ensure every pregnancy and every birth is safe.  This means strengthening health systems, developing national plans, and ensuring sufficient funding and training for health workers.

The United Nations is also supporting national efforts to monitor and evaluate progress.  We are looking at the broader picture, connecting maternal health care with services for malaria and HIV.

We are pushing to tackle the root causes of maternal death and disability, including gender inequality, child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.

These steps are the key, not only to reaching our goals on maternal and child health, but to making good on the promise of the MDGs.  If we succeed, we will help save lives, stabilize whole societies, and set the world on course for a healthier and happier future.  Thank you for your kind attention.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.