October 12, 2015

Previewing the Next Generation of Global Maternal and Newborn Health Programs in Mexico City

Written by By Sandeep Bathala, Senior Program Associate, The Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security

This post originally appeared on The New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center


The Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference, held in Mexico City from October 18-21, will provide a forum to identify, understand, and respond to the most urgent health needs of mothers and newborns. The hope is that it will accelerate momentum for maternal and newborn health in the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals and put us on a track to end all preventable maternal and newborn deaths.

One of the best ways to ensure progressive change is to showcase innovative and effective solutions and then consider how to replicate and expand those successes. For maternal and newborn health programs, this applies to improvements in quality, integration, and equity. I’m confident we’ll hear about many new and innovative approaches in Mexico City.

As we’ve explored through the Maternal Health Initiative at the Wilson Center since 2009, we know a great deal about what it takes to prevent most pregnancy-related deaths and complications. This collective knowledge, coupled with political commitment and action, has led to a global reduction in maternal mortality of 47 percent since 1990.

Yet improvements have not been universal. Many countries and marginalized groups remain behind. Nearly 80 percent of all maternal deaths are concentrated in 21 countries. In fact, six countries account for more than half of all maternal deaths: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most underserved communities and women are still too often unable to access the resources, information, and services that ensure safe pregnancy, delivery, and recovery.

The main focus of the conference is reaching every mother and newborn with quality care. As we have learned, no single investment will eliminate the stark differences in access to quality maternal care, but there is much to be learned from improved dialogue between practitioners from the field and policymakers.

The Wilson Center’s Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health series, supported by the Maternal Health Task Force and UNFPA, identifies strategies to support policymakers and practitioners around the world in improving these outcomes. Many solutions are low-cost and use existing system elements or technologies, but not all the recommendations have been about medicines, techniques, or numbers of doctors.

The need to collect relevant and reliable data on maternal health has emerged as a consistent theme. Experts have emphasized the importance of good data for tracking performance and rewarding competence. As well, benchmarks and indicators are sometimes too focused on contact with skilled birth attendants and not on the quality of care or event context. This focus on qualitative indicators is important to reduce morbidities and improve national standards that encourage institutions and staff to provide quality care and be respectful and accountable to all persons during labor and delivery.

While there are general guidelines to improving maternal health, implementation must account for local context. As a representative from the Rwandan Ministry of Health stressed at one of our events, “It is very difficult to do copy-paste; we should do, and think, according to the reality in the field.” I look forward to blogging from the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference on how policymakers and practitioners are meeting these country-specific challenges.

The mandate for addressing maternal mortality and morbidity in developing countries is growing ever more wide and precise, creating an atmosphere of heightened accountability. The next iteration of Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health by the Wilson Center will build on the series’ momentum and the conference in Mexico City to further the case to policymakers in both Washington, DC, and abroad that high quality, integrated, and equitable maternal and newborn health services are key investments for the future of their countries.

To read what global maternal health leaders are saying about and at the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference and what we need to do to end preventable maternal and newborn mortality, check out the Crowd 360 digital hub and subscribe to the conference Daily Digest.

Sources: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, United Nations.

Photo Credit: A mother in Afghanistan receives emergency obstretic care, courtesy of UNFPA.