Reflections from the Executive Director
In reviewing the outcome from last month’s G8 meeting in Camp David, Maryland, I just have to wonder how much attention the G8 leaders are giving to the critical issues facing Africa, particularly concerning the health of African mothers and children. It was heartening to see President Obama’s pre-summit announcement of a $3 billion pledge in private sector money to boost agriculture and food security in Africa, however we would like to have seen more specifics around maternal and child health.
Of course the G8 reiterated its commitment to the Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health from the 2010 summit. We are looking forward to seeing how these commitments are progressing when a comprehensive report is issued next year. In the meantime however, the progress does not look too promising.
According to ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality 1990 to 2010’, a report recently issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank and UNICEF, while maternal deaths have in fact declined globally from 1990 to 2010, “Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest maternal mortality rate (MMR) at 500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.” The report further states that every two minutes, a woman dies of pregnancy and child birth-related complications caused primarily by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure and unsafe abortions. Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, most of which could have been prevented with proven interventions.
At this rate, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll make the Millennium Development Goal 5 – to improve maternal health – through a 75 per cent reduction of the MMR by 2015.
At AMREF, we know that women are the backbone of their families and their community’s health and prosperity. That’s why in 2010 AMREF made a conscious decision to focus on improving the health of women and children in Africa’s communities. Making pregnancy safe and expanding reproductive health is a top priority for the entire organization in our strategic business plan for 2011-2014. We believe that one of the most effective routes to improving women’s health in Africa is to train more frontline health workers, particularly midwives, whose pre-natal care and assistance at births makes a huge difference for so many women’s well being. Midwives save lives. And when a mother lives, her children are 10 times more likely to celebrate their fifth birthday. It’s really that simple.
To this end, AMREF recently launched a global campaign, Stand Up For African Mothers. By raising funds to train an additional 15,000 midwives through to 2015, AMREF will contribute towards reducing maternal mortality in Africa. A skilled AMREF-trained midwife can provide care for 500 mothers each year, including safe delivery of 100 babies. Ultimately this means these additional midwives can help as many as seven million African women every year!
We have also been very active here in the United States through our participation as a founding member of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. This group of 25+ dynamic and influential non-governmental organizations is working together to urge greater and more strategic U.S. investment in frontline health workers in the developing world as the most cost-effective way to save lives and foster a healthier, safer and more prosperous world. We’ll be introducing the Coalition to senior congressional staffers on Capitol Hill in early June, urging them to dedicate more funds to train 250,000 frontline health workers in developing countries by 2015.
In my many visits to AMREF’s programs in Africa, I am always inspired, humbled and impressed by the passion and tireless commitment of women and men to overcome their enormous challenges – and create better lives for their families.
To meet a father who tells me about the joy of holding his healthy newborn in his arms because an AMREF-trained midwife was there when his wife needed her simply reinforces for me again and again why I love my job!
Until next time, Lisa