By virtue of the fact that you’re reading this, you were one of a lucky few who made it through infanthood, chances are, alongside your mother. It is something we often take for granted.
When we imagine our own babies being born, we might think, will my baby come out healthy? Will we know how to keep them safe? Have we bought the right crib, the right food? Will be we good parents? Our worries in the first hours, days and weeks of our child’s life are endless.
Yet, some mothers do not have the luxury of more than one fear, the first and most fundamental: will my baby survive childbirth?
The world over, mothers and their babies are not so fortunate. The day of birth is the most dangerous day of life, and the provision of quality maternal and newborn healthcare is far from guaranteed.
800 women and 7,400 newborns still die each day from complications during pregnancy, childbirth and shortly after delivery. Another 7,300 women experience a stillbirth.
It’s a problem that plagues countries both rich and poor. For example, babies born in Ward 8 in Washington, DC are 10x more likely to die by their first birthday than babies born in the richest, Ward 3.
Additionally, babies have similarly cruel fates in their first year of life. In a grim statistic, the World Health Organization warns that a child’s risk of dying is highest in the first 28 days of their life – a staggering 44% of the deaths of children under five happen within that period.
It is an enormous and tragic problem, and does not have a simple fix. Poor maternal and newborn health starts long before a woman goes into labor and goes far beyond the delivery room. The worst-case scenario for woman with poor access to healthcare is bleak, and is rife with obstacles.
Living in a crowded, urban slum with little education and few financial resources means she has little control over her own life. Lack of food and cramped, unsanitary living conditions mean she and her unborn child are more susceptible to disease. Fear of assault and robbery in unstable political situations mean she has fewer options when seeking care, and she is dependent on strained public resources which often cannot provide even basic services to all of the population.
Childbirth itself poses a great danger, should she not have access to a hospital or midwife. Hemorrhaging, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications from delivery and infections are all greater dangers for her. The presence of diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria also account for a number of maternal deaths. Should the child be born healthy, and she herself survive childbirth, the burden of childcare may fall on her alone.
The number of maternal and newborn deaths is still unacceptably high, but the progress seen under the MDGs, and the continued focus on women’s and newborns’ health in the SDGs mean that countries have recognized there are concrete steps that can be taken to whittle away at the monolith of maternal mortality.
- Providing access to skilled healthcare workers. Only 46% of women see a skilled health-worker during childbirth. That leaves millions of women giving birth unassisted by professionals.
- Improving infrastructure and provision of services outside the hospital, like sanitation, immunization and water.
- Providing universal healthcare. This is something all countries have grappled with doing, but it’s been proven than universal healthcare can have a profound effect on maternal and newborn health. UHC policy reforms in Brazil, China, Mexico and Thailand have already seen progress.
Girls’ Globe is currently in Mexico City at the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference. Follow @GirlsGlobe on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Periscope to receive live updates from the conference and add your voice to the discussions with #GlobalMNH!
Featured image: Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development