Good News and Bad in Countdown 2015 Progress Report

By Joanne Omang

WASHINGTON, June 8 – Despite some encouraging signs,  a “dramatic acceleration” of investment and action will be required if the world is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals related to maternal and child health by the 2015 deadline, the global tracking project Countdown to 2015 reported here today.

In new research findings released at the three-day Women Deliver 2010 conference here, the report said only 19 of the 68 countries being followed are on track to achieve MDG 4, reducing child deaths by three-quarters by 2015, and only five will achieve MDG 5, lowering mothers’ deaths by the same percentage. Ten countries actually lost ground in the past five years, the study said.

“Progress isn’t equal across countries and may have also slowed down in others, which is quite alarming,” said Zulfiqar A. Bhutta of Aga Khan University in Pakistan, co-chair of the Countdown group.

The detailed 196-page study of the countries where 97 percent of maternal and child deaths occur found that two million mothers’ lives are lost every year from lack of skilled attendants at birth alone. Nearly half the women in the tracked countries still give birth without such attendants: 350,000 more are needed to meet the global need by 2015, said Yves Bergevin, coordinator of the maternal health division at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. “We need a dramatic acceleration of our efforts,” he said.

Many countries are “task-shifting” to allow community health workers to perform tasks once restricted to midwives and midwives to perform tasks once restricted to doctors and nurses, noted Elizabeth Mason, director of child and adolescent health at the World Health Organization. Countries like Uganda and Sierra Leone that used this approach and others to reduce out-of-pocket fees for health services have achieved “dramatic differences” for women, she said.

Joy Lawn, senior policy adviser for Save the Children’s project on Saving Newborn Lives, celebrated “significant patches of progress” in the findings, noting that donor funding doubled  between 2000 and 2008, for example. Despite its poverty, Malawi is on track to meet MDG 4; Brazil has reduced stunting from malnutrition among the poor; and Bangladesh has closed its gender gap in immunizations.

Civil society involvement is critical, said Bhutta: “The best results occur when you have communities standing up for their rights,” he said. “Behind every one of these pie charts is another story of a community determined to change.”

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