The Most Vulnerable: Reaching Mothers and Newborns

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.

maternal and newborn health

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.

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


By Haile Gebrselassie, Save the Children Child Ambassador, two-time Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion.

Credit: Jiro Ose/Save the Children
Credit: Jiro Ose/Save the Children

Ethiopia, my country, is the cradle of humanity. The first stone tools were found here and Lucy, a 3 million year old skeleton and the first Homo sapiens, was found in the village of Hadar, on the southern edge of the Afar triangle.

Our history is ancient and continuous. We are fiercely proud of the fact that we are the only African nation never to have been colonised. But like every nation our history is chequered and we have suffered.

In 1983, when I was ten years old, the first flames of hunger were flickering throughout Ethiopia. It was that year my mother died due to birth related complications. In those days, in my village, this was not very unusual.

My mother died following birth complications. The women of the village tried to help, but when I think back I realise that none of them really knew what they were doing.

In so many ways, we have made progress in saving the lives of mothers and their newborns since then. Today, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been halved since 1990.

The number of women who die in childbirth has declined by almost a third – that’s millions of kids who get to grow up with a mother and millions more getting a chance at life.

What we have achieved so far must be celebrated. The actions of our governments over the last fifteen years have brought about the greatest leap in children’s wellbeing survival in history. This change has been brought about by bold political leadership at the highest levels.

But even today, half of all women giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa give birth without any skilled help. Globally, 2 million women also give birth completely alone.  A direct result of this lack of skilled health workers, as Save the Children has shown in a new report today, a million newborn babies die on their first day of life. A single baby’s death is one death too many.

The good news is that we know what needs to change: ensuring every birth is supported by quality trained health care workers who have the expertise to help premature babies survive, deal with birth complications and prevent newborn infections can, with some wider steps, help prevent as many as two-thirds of these newborn deaths.

Every country in the world must ensure that all mothers-to-be have access to a midwife with life-saving medicines and equipment.

Africa is finally a continent on the rise – and children are the key to our continuing success. I want them to grow up to be the doctors, lawyers, teachers and even athletes that they are meant to be. The race for survival is a marathon, not a sprint. We are in this for the long haul. Like long distance running, this will take endurance, commitment and conviction. We have seen the incredible results when we put our minds to it.

The prize for these children is much greater than an Olympic medal. They get a fair chance at life, regardless of how poor their parents are, where they live or whether they are a boy or a girl. This is a race that we can win.

Learn More:

  • Read the new report from Save the Children, Ending Newborn Deaths
  • Support mothers and newborns everywhere by asking world leaders to make these 5 promises to save newborns in their first day

  • Join the conversation on Twitter using #firstday.