September 22, 2015

A new era for ending preventable deaths for mothers and newborns

Written by Every Newborn Advocacy co-chairs Mary Kinney (Save the Children), Lori McDougall (PMNCH), and Anita Sharma (UN Foundation)

This post originally appeared on HNN’s website here. Reposted with permission.

September 2015 is finally here. As we celebrate many achievements and milestones for women’s and children’s health, we also usher in the Sustainable Development Goals and Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health with excitement and determination. We are more confident than ever that our goal of ending preventable deaths of mothers and newborns is within reach. The Sustainable Development Goals, which will set the development agenda for the next 15 years, include the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) target for ending preventable newborn deaths, which comprise nearly half of all under-5 child deaths globally, as well as the global Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) target. The Global Strategy captures both ENAP and EPMM efforts to accelerate progress towards ending preventable deaths, including stillbirths, and improve health outcomes. These targets are achievable because we know where the gaps remain and what we need to do to address them.  

Maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirths impede the realisation of healthy and sustainable societies: 800 women and 7,400 newborns still die each day from complications during pregnancy, childbirth, and in the postnatal period. An additional 7,300 women experience a stillbirth. While the world has made huge progress in reducing child mortality, the great remaining challenge is to save the lives of newborn babies. The latest child mortality estimates reveal that newborn deaths now make up 45% of all deaths of children under 5-years old, and the rate of progress for reducing newborn morality has been slower and for children after the neonatal period.  

The day of birth is still the most dangerous day of life, with over 2 million women and babies dying each year from preventable causes. Therefore, we must continue to focus on improving care at the time of birth in order to achieve these new goals. A recent BioMed Central Pregnancy and Childbirth supplement provides an in-depth analysis of specific challenges and solutions to scaling up high-impact interventions and improving quality of care for mothers and newborns at the time of birth and care for small and sick newborns.  

Feasible, cost-effective solutions and strategies to end preventable maternal and newborn deathsare documented in the British Medical Journal. Priority strategic objectives to end preventable maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths include strengthening care around the time of birth; strengthening health systems; reaching every women and newborn; harnessing the power of parents, families and communities; and improving collection and use of data for decision-making and accountability.

Today the world is positioned as never before to save newborn babies and their mothers. As WHO Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo said, “We know how to prevent unnecessary newborn mortality. Quality care around the time of childbirth including simple, affordable steps like ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and extra care for small and sick babies can save thousands of lives every year.” The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health be a major catalyst for giving all newborns the best chance at a healthy start in life.

There has already been much progress for maternal and newborn health since the launch of ENAP just over a year ago. Countries have made remarkable and rapid progress with concrete actions to advance maternal and newborn health by developing action plans or incorporating recommendations into existing plans. At the recent two-day global Call to Action Summit 2015, health ministers and senior delegates from 24 countries adopted the Delhi Declaration on Ending Preventable Maternal and Child Deaths, which includes a focus on newborn health. The Every Newborn Measurement Improvement Roadmap provides an ambitious plan to improve metrics and accountability for mothers and newborns. More than 50 new commitments for newborn health have been made towards the Every Woman Every Child movement, and many of these will be updated and renewed for the new Global Strategy.

The momentum will continue. Following the launch of the Global Strategy September 27, we will see the launch of the Newborn Survival Map, an initiative of the MDG Health Alliance, Johnson & Johnson, and FHI 360 together with the Every Newborn country implementation group. This digital map will identify cross-sector opportunities for collaboration among partners currently working separately but in geographic proximity. It will also reveal critical gaps in cross-sector services that if filled, could prevent the deaths of many more pregnant women and newborns. Then the FIGO Congress will take place in Vancouver, Canada from 4-9 October providing an opportunity to engage this critical professional group. The world’s first Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference will follow shortly after from 18–21 October in Mexico City, providing the first opportunity for the global maternal and newborn health communities to strategize on how to meet the new post-2015 health goals, especially for women and newborns, translating commitments into concrete action.