Maternal and Child Survival -- Development Success Stories
As we approach the end of 2015, it is clear that progress in child and maternal survival is one of the great success stories of international development.
This was not the case in 2005. Five years into the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Goals 4 and 5 on child and maternal mortality reduction were lagging far behind. This sparked intensified action, including the global movement Every Woman Every Child, launched in 2010 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which resulted in increased resources and accelerated progress. Child and maternal deaths have now been halved since 1990 -- the benchmark year against which progress on the MDGs has been measured.
In 1990, one in 10 children died before the age of five. Today, that figure has dropped to one in 20. In the same period, the number of women who die each year due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has gone from more than half a million to under 300,000.
Although a complex issue that requires a "continuum" approach -- meaning that the care of the woman and child are not treated separately -- we can single out specific interventions that have allowed us to make progress: vaccines, one of the "best buys" for preventing childhood illness and deaths, save an estimated two to three million lives each year. Maternal deaths have fallen all over the world as more women have access to contraceptives and skilled care in pregnancy and childbirth.
Lessons from the MDGs
A major lesson from the MDGs is that setting numerical targets is not enough. Even though the world has achieved stunning progress and many countries have made impressive gains, when we look closely, stark differences and inequities appear between and within countries.
Many of the countries with the poorest health outcomes today were in that same position in 1990. Four out of every five deaths of children under the age of five occur in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia -- many are newborn babies whose deaths could be prevented with simple, inexpensive solutions. The proportion of mothers who die during childbirth is still 14 times higher in developing countries than in high-income countries.
In addition, the MDGs didn't address some of the most pressing health challenges -- for example, there were no targets to curb non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, that are prevalent across both high- and low-income countries.
Addressing MDG Shortcomings -- Goal 3
Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addresses the health MDG's shortcomings. It is a central goal relevant to all countries and all people: "Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages." Underpinning this broad goal are 13 targets, including ambitious new ones for improving the health and lives of women, babies, children worldwide.
In the area of maternal and child health, we hope by 2030 that fewer than 70 out of 100,000 deliveries should result in the death of a mother. By that same year, there should be no preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age. Additionally, by 2030 everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, should have access to reproductive health services, including family planning.
Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health
A key driver to guide the work to achieve these targets will be the renewed Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. This plan, due to be launched in New York at the end of this month, outlines what countries and health partners need to do to end all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents by 2030 and improve their health. With a mantra of "survive, thrive, transform," the strategy moves beyond survival alone to improving the health and lives of women, children and adolescents as the basis for sustainable development.
Under the umbrella of Every Woman Every Child, the strategy is being developed with strong leadership and support from the World Health Organization (WHO), building on expertise and networks on health, as well as other areas such as environmental health and human rights. The strategy identifies what actions and investments will have the greatest impact on saving lives and improving health. It focuses on reaching everyone, in particular the poor and vulnerable, many of whom live in humanitarian and fragile settings.
Once the strategy is launched, WHO will continue to support national governments as they put the recommendations of the strategy into practice.
Perhaps the most important effect of the MDGs has been to inspire global action by the international development community. These specific and measurable goals have focused political attention and generated much-needed funds.
As we move into the SDG era, we should look back on lessons learned as we strove to achieve the MDGs. With the SDGs, we must aim for progress across the board -- in remote and rural areas and among the poorest and most disadvantaged residents of urban centers. We need to be able to identify the gaps so that we can allocate limited resources effectively.
The number of countries striving to provide health services equitably and universally is growing. In 2030, I hope that we can look back and affirm that indeed we have reached the health goal, and that the greatest advance of the SDGs was to ensure that the progress and improvement in health touched everyone, everywhere.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 3.