Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths

Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths

{Photo credit: Mark Tuschman, Kenya.}Photo credit: Mark Tuschman, Kenya.

Supporting Stronger Health Systems for Healthy Mothers and Children

Catharine Taylor is the Vice President of MSH’s Center for Health Services and acting technical lead on maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH). A trained nurse and midwife, Taylor has 25 years of experience in international and domestic sexual and reproductive health, with a focus on maternal and newborn health and programing for youth. Together with Gloria Sangiwa, MD, and Sara Holtz, DrPH, MPH, she serves on the Advisory Group of USAID’s Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Maternal and Child Deaths. Learn more about how MSH is acting on the call and saving women’s and children’s lives: Follow or join the Twitter chat today, June 24, at 12:30 pm ET, with hashtag " href="">.

Women are so strong and resilient. I’ve always been amazed by the process of bringing new life into the world, and surprised that maternal mortality ratios aren’t higher than they are, given that many women in low-resource settings deliver at home on their own, or with only a family member for support. But, strength and resiliency of women alone cannot end preventable maternal and child deaths. For every precious new life that is delivered, I can see the face of a woman or newborn that did not survive.

Every day, 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth—99 percent of these deaths are of women in low- and middle-income countries. And 6.6 million children under the age of five die each year, 44 percent of them in the first month of life. This is unacceptable and avoidable. To give all women and children a chance at a healthy life, we have to reach families in the world’s most remote and troublesome areas, where services are least available and people are most vulnerable to illness.

Working at All Levels, All Functions, in All Places

For over forty years MSH has worked to improve health in countries throughout the developing world, often focusing in “fragile states”, areas disrupted by internal conflict, natural disasters, and war, where women and children have the most difficulty accessing basic, essential health care. We work with local governments and partners to create sustainable solutions that build internal capacity to provide high quality maternal, neonatal, and child health services long after we’ve gone. To give more families a chance at a healthy life, MSH expands access to quality maternal, neonatal, and child health services by strengthening all levels of the health system—from the household to community to district to ministries of health—and all functions of the system, from service delivery to supply chains to the health workforce, health care financing, and more.

In Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), MSH works in villages where women and children might have to walk 10 kilometers or more to reach the nearest health facility, and supports the DRC Government’s efforts to reduce infant mortality. Through the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded, MSH-led, Integrated Health Project, we train community volunteers to provide prevention, care, and treatment for malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea, the three most common causes of childhood mortality. These volunteers often have little formal education, but when well-trained and -supported, they can save lives. From October 2010 through March 2014, health workers at community health sites have treated more than 25,000 children with malaria, 84,000 cases of pneumonia, and 35,000 cases of diarrhea. Without access to simple, life-saving medicines in their communities, many of these children would have died. Additionally, through the USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS), implemented by MSH, we are supporting the DRC Government’s efforts to reduce preventable newborn deaths by providing assistance for an action plan to support access to lifesaving medical products, such as 7.1 percent Chlorhexidine (CHX).

All over the world, community health workers trained by MSH provide community-based care for childhood illnesses, immunizations, and family planning services, keeping their communities healthier and families stronger. The volunteers form the backbone of their community health system, but cannot work alone. They must have functional facilities to refer complicated cases, and also must have consistent and reliable supply of medicines and commodities. MSH works with both national medical stores and local drug shops, to ensure that medicines and commodities are available whenever and wherever a woman or child is in need. We work with ministries of health to support their leadership and governance and inform their maternal and child health policies with international best practices adapted to their local contexts.

In 10 countries throughout Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, MSH has helped partners use the Integrated Community Case Management Costing and Financing tool to show that management of childhood illnesses through community health workers is not only possible, but cost effective as well. The results provide evidence for advocacy for increased funding for community-based activities and planning future programs that can save children’s lives.

Acting on the Call

Working in global health, on some of the toughest, most heartbreaking problems the world faces, we sometimes forget to pause and appreciate our shared successes. That is why we at MSH are delighted to join USAID and our international partners in recognizing the remarkable progress made in saving women’s and children’s lives in the past two decades at the Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths Forum, June 25. Through innovation, effective partnerships, capacity building, evidence-informed interventions, and advocacy, the global health community has helped cut the annual number of maternal deaths and child deaths by nearly 50 percent between 1990 and 2010. This is an extraordinary accomplishment and one to look to for lessons learned to share, scale-up, and replicate across other health areas.

No one woman, midwife, or part of the health system, can end preventable child and maternal deaths alone—no matter how strong and resilient we are. It is only working together in partnerships through an integrated and holistic approach that we will be able to provide every mother and child the opportunity for a healthy start, and a healthy future.

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