As a father of three, I see unlimited potential when I look at my children. And I am reminded that my own parents came to the United States from India so that my sister and I could have a strong education and greater opportunity in life.
But around the world, many parents don’t have this luxury. And in many cases, the greatest fear of a parent is that their son or daughter won’t even reach the age of five–an important milestone for survival. By age five, most children can get past the early-life bottlenecks hampering survival–early childhood diseases, malnutrition and poor health conditions.
In 1985, a measles epidemic blew through a group of Sudanese refugee camps where I was working, quickly killing scores of malnourished children and leaving a scar in my memory. More than a quarter century later, some 1.5 million children still die every year from a handful of vaccine-preventable diseases, but the discourse of death–how many children die from which disease–has shifted to a message of hope.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on maternal and child health are lagging far behind target. Although Africa has just 12% of the global population, it accounts for half of all maternal deaths and half the deaths of children under five.
The Family Health Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation strives to contribute to the discovery, development, delivery and dissemination of innovative solutions to long-standing health problems affecting poor women, newborns and children in developing countries.
Since the beginning of our work in family health, and as we invest in large-scale models of delivery of integrated solutions for women and children, we have been humbled and challenged by the complexity of spreading and scaling up health innovations in poor countries. Despite increased availability of funding for global health during the last decade and growing access to robust empirical evidence on the efficacy of innovations such as vaccines, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, and skin-to-skin care—to name a few—the assimilation of these changes remains elusive.
It is estimated that 7,700 women die each year in Kenya from pregnancy related complications. This translates to 21 women dying each day or one woman every hour from preventable causes, making the need to address safe motherhood a human rights imperative. Maternity is the most important aspect of life, because that's where life begins. likewise, maternal mortality is the single greatest indicator of health systems that fail to meet the basic needs of the society's poorest and most vulnerable: women. While life expectancy for women is higher than men in most countries, many health and social factors contribute to a lower quality of life for women. Women are oft en not able to receive medical services because of lack of funding, transportation, and even awareness of their rights.
In Kenya, approximately one woman dies every hour from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths can be prevented. The causes are well known and the interventions are simple. Greater education and access to care are the answers.
The death of a woman, and especially that of a mother, has far reaching consequences. Women are the hearts and engines of their families, communities, and their country at large. Their health and survival has a huge impact on the economy and the environment as well as on peace and stability. The death of a mother shatters her family and threatens the family's wellbeing. We all have a role to play to save their lives by advocating, among other things, increased funding for programs to improve the health of mothers. Kenyan mothers must no longer die while giving life.
As 2015 approaches, countries are focusing more of their attention on women's health and looking for new and innovative ways to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Of the three health-related MDGs, progress has been slowest in attaining MDG5, which calls for a 75% reduction in maternal mortality and universal access to reproductive health. Recent estimates have shown some progress, but approximately 368,000 women still die annually and only 21 countries are on track to meet their maternal mortality goal. (lozano R, 2011) The risk of dying while giving life remains almost 100 times greater in the countries with the highest maternal mortality ratio compared to those with the lowest.