Updated data on mortality rates among mothers and young children are likely to encourage G8 leaders, who at their meeting later this week will make this health issue – long considered a neglected area of international development efforts – a 2010 priority.
According to the United Nations annual assessment of progress on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), released today, the number of deaths among children under the age of 5 has dropped from 12.6 million in 1990 to an estimated 8.8 million in 2008, corresponding to a decline in the mortality rate from 100 deaths per 1,000 live births to 72 in 2008 (a 28 per cent decline). But progress is falling short of the MDG target under Goal 4, for a two-thirds reduction in childhood mortality rates between 1990 and 2015, and millions of children continue to die each year at a tragically young age.
Progress has been recorded by many countries on maternal mortality, and the latest preliminary data indicate that some countries have achieved significant declines. However, the rate of reduction is still well short of the 5.5 per cent annual reduction needed to meet the target under Goal 5, for slashing maternal mortality rates by three quarters between 1990 and 2015, the UN reports. Hundreds of thousands of women – 99 per cent of them in the developing world – die annually as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.
“For too long, maternal and child health has been at the back of the MDG train,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this year at the UN, at the 14 April launch of an initiative for a joint action plan among governments, businesses, foundations and civil society organizations. “But we know it can be the engine of development,” he continued, citing women as drivers of progress and healthy children as the starting point for a stronger, better educated and more productive citizenry.
Maternal health is difficult to measure, because of underreporting and uncertainty as to which factors may be most responsible for a mother’s death. But the UN’s Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 shows that the rural-urban gap in skilled care during childbirth has narrowed, and more women are receiving skilled healthcare during pregnancy.
- More women are receiving skilled assistance during delivery in developing countries, particularly in Northern Africa and South-East Asia. However, less than half the women giving birth in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are attended by skilled health personnel.
- Meeting women’s unmet need for family planning significantly reduces maternal deaths by cutting down unintended pregnancies. Preventing closely spaced pregnancies and pregnancies among teenagers would also improve the health of women and girls and increase the chances that their children will survive.
- Disparities remain between the wealthiest and the poorest women in getting skilled assistance at birth, especially in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where the wealthiest women are five times more likely and three times more likely, respectively, as the poorest women to be attended by trained healthcare workers. In the developing world as a whole, “women in the richest households are three times as likely as women in the poorest households” to receive such care.
- Funding for family planning has declined during the first few years of the present decade. And inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health.
World leaders to set action agenda to 2015
At a September UN summit, world leaders will seek agreement on an action agenda to build on successes and close the gaps in achieving all the MDGs by the target year of 2015. More than 100 Heads of State and Government are expected, along with leaders from the private sector, foundations and civil society organizations.
First agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, the eight MDGs set worldwide objectives for reducing extreme poverty and hunger, improving health and education, empowering women and ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015.
The Millennium Development Goals Report, an annual assessment of regional progress towards the Goals, reflects the most comprehensive, up-to-date data compiled by over 25 UN and international agencies. Produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the report has been designated by the UN General Assembly as an official input to the MDG summit. A complete set of the data used to prepare the report is available at http://mdgs.un.org.
For more information, press materials and an inter-agency media contact list, see http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals