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Why The Fight For Maternal and Child Health Is A Race Against Time

When we entered the delivery room of a small hospital in rural Malawi, our eyes went immediately to the two newborns lying side by side.
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When we entered the delivery room of a small hospital in rural Malawi, our eyes went immediately to the two newborns lying side by side. They had been placed on a small warming table, a simple device found in some health centers where no incubators are available. My two colleagues and I gazed at the babies, each wrapped in brightly colored cloth, while a nurse explained that they were both fortunate to be alive. The stronger and larger of the two had been born the night before and had not been able to take his first breath. Happily for this newborn and his parents, the midwife who delivered him had recently been trained in neonatal resuscitation and knew exactly what to do to save his life. The other tiny baby had entered the world at 28 weeks, much earlier than the full 40-week term. Her survival was not yet certain.

Memories of those newborns were top-of-mind for me when many colleagues and I participated in events surrounding the United Nations General Assembly last week. World leaders discussed climate change and Ebola as well as the world's progress towards achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established by the United Nations and member states in 2000. As of today, there are fewer than 460 days left to achieve these goals before the deadline of December 31, 2015.

Why do these goals still matter? They are important because literally millions of lives are at stake. In 2013, nearly 3 million babies died in their first 28 days of life, another 2.6 million were stillborn, and 289,000 girls and women died from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. These numbers are staggering. It is impossible to imagine the impact of these deaths on families and loved ones, and on entire communities where maternal and newborn mortality rates are highest.

For generations, Johnson & Johnson has cared about the health of babies, their moms and their families. In 2010, responding to the United Nations Secretary General's global call-to-action, our company committed to help accelerate progress on MDG 4 (reduce child mortality), MDG 5 (improve maternal health) and MDG 6 (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases). Our MDG commitment is clear and measurable: reach 120 million women and children a year by 2015.

In 2013, working in over 65 countries, this work reached more than 80 million women, children and newborns. Working with trusted partners, many of whom work on the ground with the most vulnerable mothers, infants and children, we are focused on five areas where we can help drive significant improvements: making childbirth safer for mothers and babies; treating and preventing intestinal worms in children; researching, developing and delivering new medicines for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases; eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and delivering vital health information to new and expecting moms via mobile phone.

The most vulnerable mothers, infants and children need our steadfast, collective commitment through 2015 and beyond. Despite the efforts of governments, UN Agencies, NGOs, foundations, health care associations, academic institutions and private sector companies, maternal and child health will remain the "unfinished agenda" of the MDGs. The most inspiring voices I heard in New York last week were those of young people advocating for this issues. Their passion and energy was evident in speeches, on panels and in social media, and they re-energized our shared commitment.

Together we must ensure that women's and children's health and survival remain at the forefront of the global health agenda. We cannot move on before we complete the work begun at the start of the new millennium. Families and communities everywhere will be stronger because we do.

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