madameTobekaMadibaZumaMany surveys tell us that more than half a million women die every year from complications due to childbirth and pregnancy. The greatest concern is that a large portion of these deaths are found in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The dominance of these unfortunate and unnecessary deaths being in SSA implies that health care systems in Africa must share a large number of characteristics that predispose them to allow such high maternal mortality.

The progress towards reaching MDG5 can be debated endlessly but one thing remains clear. Reducing maternal mortality is more than just a numbers game. Reducing maternal mortality means mothers are helped not only to live but to effectively involve themselves in the development process of the continent. Women make up more than half of the total population of most sub-Saharan African countries and as result, an inferior maternal healthcare system will constrain human and sustainable socio- economic development. As a continent, our growth agenda is irrefutably founded on the health of our women. We cannot claim to be an emerging market which matters unless we are able to quantifiably demonstrate improvements to the status of women's health and the access females get to health services which address this.

There are many steps to be taken to ensuring we improve our maternal health care as a continent. One such step is to reinforce our health systems and encouraging interventions focusing on policies and strategies that work. There needs to be tighter supervision and evaluation of maternal and newborn ill-health and its impact on societies and their socio-economic development.

Efficient and valuable partnerships need to be forged in order to make best use of scarce resources. Local, national, regional and global conversations need to be had in advocating for investment in maternal and newborn health by highlighting the social and economic benefits and by emphasizing maternal mortality as human rights and equity issue. South Africa has been successful in this regard. In September this year, Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi met with senior representatives from the Department for International Development (DFID) where £17m (R198m) was committed to South Africa's Maternal and Child Healthcare Programme. This support from the UK Government will undoubtedly enable South Africa to make great progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. The Department of Health has made it public knowledge that the funds will be used to strengthen maternal and child health service delivery through the following outputs:

Districts able to oversee improvement of reproductive, maternal and child (RMCH) health services

Strengthened delivery of school health, municipal ward-based Primary Healthcare, and obstetric and neonatal emergency services

Improved demand and accountability for RMCH services

New knowledge to remove barriers to uptake and access RMCH services.

The most important tool in combating maternal mortality rates is for us as women to realise that we have a voice. In my work as Chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies against Breast and Cervical Cancer (FAFLABCC) I was continuously shocked by the statistics surrounding mortality due to many factors such as HIV/ Aids, breast and cervical cancer in South Africa and the rest of Africa. Having attended and lectured at a number of regional and international conferences I have become privy to much of the ground breaking work being done in the developed countries which has made me even more aware of the wide and deep chasm to be traversed by developing countries to improve prevention, care and treatment.

The time has come for us as Africans to get back to basics and seek to plot a sustainable growth path. Women are the future of this growth path and they need to be healthy for this to happen. The groundswell of activism in rural and urban areas is indisputably coupled with the principles of access to healthcare in the disease areas which impact women most. We cannot sustain a future without a healthy female population. It's our single biggest growth priority.