A New Type of Mother's Day Gift

The past 15 years have ushered in unprecedented and multisectoral collaboration towards global development goals. Organized around the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), all of the then 189 member countries of the UN, international development institutions and private and civil sector partners aligned efforts towards tackling 8 of the world's most pressing development challenges including extreme poverty, primary education, gender equality and child mortality. Amongst all the goals, those around reducing maternal mortality -- the number of women that die as a result of complication from pregnancy or childbirth -- are projected to be met last. And a close examination of maternal health globally reveals some of the greatest health disparities measured between rich and poor. The recent State of the World's Mothers report noted that women in Central and West Africa have a 130x lifetime risk of maternal death greater than women in industrialized countries.

While the shortfall around meeting MDG 5, the goal focused on maternal health, may have several drivers, there are two clear fault lines. While access to skilled birth attendants has increased, quality hasn't necessarily improved. Dr. John Townsend, Director of Population Council, cites "overcrowded delivery wards, limited staff with overburdened responsibilities, and lack of availability of oxytocin for the prevention and treatment of heavy postpartum bleeding." One of the other greatest drivers of maternal deaths are the downstream effects of unintended pregnancies such as unsafe abortions. There are currently 225 million women globally with an unmet need for contraceptive services.

With only 235 days until the MDGs sunset, priorities for the next round of global development goals are currently being considered. While the final list of goals and targets are under discussion for the post-2015 development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, now is a time to re-prioritize maternal and reproductive health among not only governments and development institutions but also the private sector. There are scalable, social franchising models from India, such as the Merrygold Health Network, that are able to fill the quality gap and provide comprehensive antenatal and obstetric care to low-income populations. Perhaps there is a role for South-South collaboration in bringing some of these innovative models to high burden countries in Africa. And public-private partnerships offer promise for product development such as Glaxo Smith Klein's collaboration to develop heat-resistant inhaled oxytocin for resource poor settings. Lastly, ensuring universal access to contraceptive services would have dramatic impact such as reducing the annual number of maternal deaths by two-thirds from 290,000 to 96,000 according to a recent UNFPA report.

This year, let's give a different kind of gift to our mothers -- one that elevates that status of maternal health in the SDGs. What is it that we are trying to convey on each Mother's Day, if nothing but the celebration of the life? And what better way to celebrate the lives of these women, who have given us the width of the sky, more meaningfully than the gift of good health?