September 21, 2014

Newborn health: How do we care for the most vulnerable in our society?

Written by Liz Fortier, Girls' Globe blogger

This post originally appeared on the Girls’ Globe website here. Reposted with permission.

When the UN millennium development goals (MDGs) were established in 2000, the reduction of child mortality was named as MDG 4. The target of MDG 4 is to reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate. The indicators that are used to track progress against MDG 4 are under-five mortality rate, the infant mortality rate, and the proportion of 1 year-old children immunized against measles.

Since 1990, the global infant mortality rate has decreased by almost half. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in Europe in 2013, the lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth was 1 in 3,300, and the chance of an infant dying before her first birthday was 10 per 1,000 live births.

Of course, we could do better, but these numbers don’t paint such a bad picture. Most of us in the developing world do not fear the risks involved with childbirth or worry about our child dying in the first year of life. For us, having a baby is a celebration with little fear.

Let’s change the setting. In Africa, in 2013, the lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth was 1 in 40, and 63 infants per 1000 live births died before their first birthday. That is 6 times higher than the infant deaths in Europe. The United Nations update on MDG 4 explains that, ‘Despite determined global progress in reducing child deaths, an increasing proportion of child deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Four out of every five deaths of children under age five occur in these regions.’

How would we feel about childbirth in this scenario?

What are mothers and babies dying from in Africa and other developing nations?

According to WHO, mothers are dying from severe bleeding, and preventable infectious and chronic diseases that become exacerbated during pregnancy, such as malaria, HIV, diabetes, and obesity.

That statistic is unbelievable to me. It sounds like something that would describe a scene from the 1900s in the United States, but this is a reality for a large number of people in the world today.

Newborn health is inextricably connected to maternal health. Similarly to maternal mortality, preventable diseases are the major causes of under-five deaths. Inadequate nutrition, limited access to clean water, and poor healthcare infrastructures lead to the spread of preventable infectious diseases.

When I traveled to South Africa to study public health in 2011, I met a 2-year-old girl who was HIV positive. During the time I spent with her and her family, she enjoyed playing with my camera and trying to recruit me for a game of hide-and-seek. She was just as playful as any 2-year old I’ve met, but sadly she is up against a lot more than most. In addition to her illness, she lives in a shack in a community of people who have been ostracized because of their diagnosis with HIV. She already lacks resources she needs to secure a healthy life.

Poverty perpetuates these health care dilemmas and is severaly slowing down progress towards reaching MDG 4 and 5 (improving maternal health) targets in developing nations.

Although it looks like MDGs 4 and 5 will not been achieved in the hardest to reach locations, increased research, awareness, and acknowledgement of protecting our newborns has led to a few new campaigns to create the needed change.

The ‘Every Newborn Action Plan’ includes different focus areas from MDG 4 and 5:

  • Empowering Women
  • Country Focus
  • Political Leadership
  • Accountability
  • Economic Return

Every Women Every Child is a global movement led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intensify action to improve the health of women and children.

Next week at the United Nations General Assembly, myself and other Girls’ Globe bloggers will be covering the discussion surrounding the Millennium Development Goal progress as it relates to women and children.

Newborn health is important to me because I feel that the ways in which we care for the most vulnerable in our society reflects what we value. If we are not putting true efforts toward protecting mothers and children we are failing.

Please tune in and use #Commit2Deliver to help influence our world’s leaders to effectively prioritize health care for women and newborns. Follow #MDG456Live on Twitter for live updates from UNGA from Girls’ Globe, FHI360, Women Deliver and Johnson&Johnson and sign up for the Daily Delivery and read fellow Girls’ Globe blogger, Esther Sharma’s, post that discusses how midwives should be central to achieving MDG 4 and 5.