Which Way to Better Health: A Roadmap to Save Mothers and Newborns

Co-authored with Carolyn Miles

As children, we were fascinated when our school teachers rolled out the maps showing different parts of the world. Even today, as we've each traveled the world in our respective roles, maps still hold a certain fascination and urgency to go beyond where we've been -- to move forward. So you can imagine how we feel about a roadmap that places the health and survival of newborns and mothers at the very center of the political agenda.

This year, the global health community won a huge victory in the battle to reduce health risks for millions of mothers and newborns with the passage of the Every Newborn Action Plan. In agreeing to this plan, governments around the world have embraced an ambitious set of actions to ensure all mothers and their newborns -- no matter where they live -- can reach and receive quality care from a trained and skilled health worker during pregnancy, childbirth and the early days of life. These actions are a lifeline for millions of families and a path to strong and healthy communities.

In our last year before the Millennium Development Goals deadline, we've also seen a huge drop in the numbers of children under five dying, from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.3 million today. On our recent trips to Ethiopia, we both got to see what that statistic looks like in reality. Instead of dying from malaria and malnutrition, more children today are getting a healthy start and are thriving in their schools, learning to become the next generation of doctors and teachers and leaders.

The road is still long. Globally, 40 million mothers give birth alone every year. In Ethiopia, 90 percent of mothers are still giving birth at home, and the country continues to face major health challenges so that their newborns survive their first month. Of the one million newborns that die each year, 88,000 are from Ethiopia, making it one of the top ten countries with the highest number of newborn deaths.

It's these high rates of deaths among newborns in Ethiopia and globally that keep us fighting for access to better care. As the MDG deadline looms ahead of us, we need to redouble our efforts to end preventable newborn deaths if we are to meet those targets.

This week, as world leaders gather in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly where they will discuss a new set of development targets for a post MDG world, we will be encouraging them to stay focused and committed on actions to improve maternal and newborn health. At the Social Good Summit on Sunday, we shared what we've learned alongside two heroes in the fight to reach more women and children: UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and Victoria Shaba, a leading midwife for Save the Children in Malawi.

The success around child survival in Ethiopia as well as countries like Malawi, Nepal and Bangladesh proves that the Millenium Development Goals can work if we commit to putting the health of our mothers and children first. With less than 500 days left, we can be hopeful that together, we will save the lives of millions of mothers and their children.

Liya Kebede, Founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation
Carolyn Miles, President & CEO Save the Children US

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