In Response to Liya Kebede: Our Responsiblity to Improving Maternal Health

Liya Kebede's recent piece strikes powerful chords regarding maternal health that hopefully will resonate among the widest possible audience. As Ms. Kibede outlines, allowing our mothers to suffer from neglect represents an abrogation of our shared responsibility to humanity.

My work with malaria has introduced me directly to the far-reaching significance of maternal health; however, the relationship between maternal health and malaria demonstrates only one point of intersection among a host of issues that carry broad implications across the global health landscape. In this regard, Ms. Kebede's insights also touch on an important conversation currently underway regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As she points out, the health-related MDGs -- four, five and six -- need not advance in isolation, but rather can complement one another when underscoring organically occurring links.

For example, the centrality of women and children offers an underlying rhythm that plays through MDG four, five and six, as children under five account for 90 percent of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, while mothers, the primary caregivers, bear responsibility for ensuring that these children sleep under nets and receive the necessary treatment. In the hardest hit countries, malaria is the catalyst for 20 percent of deaths among pregnant women and new mothers.

For HIV, women account for 60 percent of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa and transmission from mothers to newborns is a significant, yet solvable problem. Children are dramatically more likely to die without a mother.

Just as malaria, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child mortality spill into one another in a web of cause and effect, pursuing in an integrated fashion the goals of each holds the potential to save even more lives. As this framework continues to evolve and mature, it could hold impact positively maternal health.

Fortunately, maternal health benefits from the attention of outstanding champions, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Sarah Brown. With their leadership and the support of existing funding partners, notably the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, we have the promise of achieving progress in the areas Ms. Kebede highlights.