Let’s build on our success for mothers and children in developing countries

Oct 01, 2012

Good news in international development often seems buried in a sea of bad.

Canadians should be proud to know investments in the health of mothers and children are really making a difference. However, without firm commitments beyond 2015, our optimism remains fragile for those who are most vulnerable.

The UN reports that from 1990 to 2010, the number of women who died from complications in childbirth has fallen by 47 per cent.
Meanwhile, according to UNICEF, the rate of children under five that die each year from preventable disease is in sharp decline. Since 1990, we have cut child deaths from nearly 12 million to an estimated 6.9 million in 2011. That’s a drop of 41 per cent.

Incredible progress is being made in Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, which have all halved their child mortality rates since 1990.

At the same time, we are still seeing high rates of maternal and child mortality concentrated in the two poorest regions in the world, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. These areas account for 85 per cent of maternal deaths and 82 per cent of deaths for children under five worldwide.

Sadly, children born into the poorest families are two times more likely to succumb to preventable diseases. One in nine children will not live to celebrate his or her fifth birthday in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the United Nations General Assembly last week, world leaders discussed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and how to scale up proven, cost-effective interventions to dramatically reduce mother and child mortality. Accountability was a significant theme and it was the right theme.  Governments must be accountable – in the north and in the south, aid agencies must be accountable and, most importantly, we must all be accountable to every child in the world who will wake up tomorrow hungry or in pain.

Core to this accountability is the need for all governments and international development agencies to move forward to boost our efforts to meet our targets for mothers and children. Together, we can achieve the MDG goals of reducing the ratio of maternal deaths by three-quarters and cutting child deaths by two-thirds in 2015.

Yes, these targets are ambitious, but they are not hopelessly idealistic. Governments must act now to accelerate progress made and ensure these goals are achieved. With sustained effort we can even end all preventable childhood deaths within a generation.
Beyond 2015, there is a need to action a concrete plan to end preventable child deaths in the long-term. The plan must have broad buy-in by governments, communities, NGOs and other key stakeholders. It should promote an integrated and innovative approach to health care delivery and diagnostics. This includes a number of specific measures such as trained health workers reaching every woman and child, the prevention of chronic malnutrition, universal access to vaccines and immunizations, and the empowerment of women and girls.

Canada has shown tremendous leadership in the area of maternal and child health. In 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paved the way for a $7.3 billion Muskoka Initiative investment by G8 countries. The federal government has made good on Canada’s $1.1 billion promise to support our work with our partners on the front lines, delivering services and saving lives.

Moving forward, we encourage the Canadian government to continue its leadership on maternal and child health with sustained support beyond 2015. We must keep going, not only with funding, but also critical resources needed to strengthen health care systems and recruit and train front line health care workers, midwives and doctors.

Further, Canada must support national and international targets to dramatically bring down the number of chronically-malnourished children and help galvanize political action against hunger.

Decreasing maternal and child mortality is a puzzle with many moving pieces, but there are simple, proven solutions. While a lot of work may lie ahead, Canada’s development agencies are well positioned to deliver excellent programs on behalf of all Canadians.

Time and again, questions are raised about international aid’s ability to address the systemic causes of poverty and prevent needless deaths due to disease and malnutrition. Yet, despite severe droughts in both West Africa’s Sahel region and East Africa coupled with worldwide economic uncertainly, we have seen dramatic success in cutting child mortality for children under five.

Reducing child deaths by 41 per cent is nothing short of amazing. But we can’t stop now. The last thing the world’s poorest women and children need is the international community’s failure to stay the course.

Kevin McCort                          
President and CEO                      
CARE Canada                             

Rosemary A. McCarney                       
President and Chief Executive Officer               
Plan Canada                                   

David Morley                           
President and CEO                       
UNICEF Canada                       

Dave Toycen
President and CEO
World Vision Canada

M.G. Venkatesh Mannar
Micronutrient Initiative       

Patricia Erb
President and CEO
Save the Children   

Jean-Francois Tardif
Executive Director