The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on maternal and child health are lagging far behind the targets. Although Africa is only 12% of the global population, it accounts for half of all maternal deaths and deaths of children under five. In many developing countries, ensuring mothers stay alive, are healthy and their children can thrive are major challenges. Many women die each year from pregnancy-related causes and millions more suffer from complications including hemorrhage, infection, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labour. In Africa, on average, 162,000 mothers die each year during pregnancy and childbirth.
Most of these deaths are preventable.
For African women, simple and affordable training will save lives and ensure that childbirth is a joyful experience rather than a life-or-death crisis. The most affected group is women in poor and remote communities, far from the nearest health services. The most at risk and vulnerable are young women and girls. In many communities, girls marry very young and contraceptive advice is poor or non-existent. Many of the worst complications in pregnancy are suffered by teenage mothers. Giving birth is a physically traumatic experience for a young girl’s body.
Poverty causes many women and girls to become vulnerable to exploitation including trafficking, early marriage, and even selling sex as these are the only options available to support themselves. As a result, many young women contract HIV. It is difficult for women and children living with HIV to access health services. They experience inadequate access to family planning, antenatal care, proper nutrition and support. They do not receive proper information and treatment that will keep their infants from contracting the virus. Many countries have improved in taking steps to reduce stigma but there is still a lot to be done. With full access to holistic and nonjudgmental health care services, young women living with HIV or AIDS can lead long and full lives.
It is important for African governments to understand the importance of women’s and children’s health for development in Africa. They need to recommit and support the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) and also Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). When women have adequate access to reproductive health service like family planning, skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric and neonatal care, mother and child survival rates are high while deaths are low. Access to reproductive health, especially family planning and maternal health services, helps women and girls avoid unplanned or early pregnancy, unsafe abortions, as well as pregnancy‐related disabilities.
The result? Women and children stay healthier and are more productive.
Each African government should ensure there is a women friendly health care services that respects women’s sexual reproductive rights and are well equipped with adequately trained health workers. They also need to strengthen existing health systems. Governments need to promote “one-stop shops” where all services like maternal health, reproductive health, HIV prevention and treatment can be accessed at one point. Family planning is a proven, life-saving solution that has the potential to decrease unwanted pregnancies by more than two-thirds, and avert 70% of maternal deaths. Access to affordable, stigma-free family planning information and services should be made available to all.
How can we #Commit2Deliver for women and children’s health?
With enough money set aside for women and children’s health, governments can plan services better. They can train, deploy and manage more frontline health workers to deliver family planning and other health services in poor and rural areas. While public services scale up, governments can partner with the non-profit and private sectors through total market approaches to fill the gaps with affordable care for all populations.
We all need to create a world that is for women and children in Africa. Let’s have confidence that no woman will die giving birth to life and no child will die of HIV, measles or malaria. All communities need to have good access to health facilities/services, clean water and proper sanitation. Schools should be built and offer free education to children. It is time for Africa and Africans to change the world for women and children, ensuring their right to participate, and that their views are heard and considered. Every child has a right to grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity.
September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.