What We Do

Maternal, Newborn & Child Health

Strategy Overview

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A mother and newborn at a health center in the Patna district of Bihar, India.

our goal:

to ensure that women and newborns survive and remain healthy during pregnancy and childbirth and to improve health outcomes for young children.

The Challenge

At A Glance

In low-income communities, many women and newborns die during pregnancy and childbirth from conditions that can be easily prevented using cost-effective interventions.

We invest in the development and delivery of interventions that can be used by families and health workers in low-resource settings to improve the survival and health of women, newborns, and young children.

We advocate for policies and programs that support expanded coverage of high-impact interventions in countries with high burdens of maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

Our Maternal, Newborn & Child Health program is led by Mariam Claeson, director, and is part of the foundation’s Global Development Division.

Since 1990, maternal deaths worldwide have dropped by 45 percent, but every day about 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occur in low-income settings as a result of conditions that include severe bleeding, infection, high blood pressure, and complications during delivery.

Maternal health is closely linked to newborn survival. While great strides have been made in reducing global child mortality, newborns now account for 44 percent of all childhood deaths. Each year, 2.9 million newborns needlessly die within their first month and an additional 2.6 million are stillborn. The main causes, which are preventable and treatable, are complications due to prematurity, complications during delivery, and infection.

Proven, high-impact interventions are available, but they are not reaching all of the women and newborns who need them. Although facility births are increasing in all regions and income groups, quality of care at birth remains a major challenge. Many women give birth at home and may not see a skilled health worker before or after delivery. Skilled health workers often lack access to critical supplies and medicines.

The Opportunity

Most maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented using existing, proven, cost-effective interventions: antibiotics, cord care (including sterile blades for cutting umbilical cords), drugs that prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage, resuscitation, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, and kangaroo mother care to keep the newborn warm with skin-to-skin contact and breastfed. An increasing number of women are seeking to deliver their babies at first-level facilities, which provides an opportunity to expand quality services around the time of birth.

A home visit with a mother and newborn in the Patna district of Bihar, India.

Such cost-effective interventions can significantly reduce maternal and newborn mortality. Further improvements are also possible through the development of new tools and technologies that enable earlier, faster, and more accurate assessment of gestational age and diagnosis and treatment of dangerous conditions, including measures to prevent preterm death.

Increasing the coverage of family planning services, especially among high-risk adolescent girls, can help significantly reduce maternal and newborn mortality. Improvement in the quality of antenatal and postpartum services can help strengthen the link between family planning and maternal and newborn health. 

Our Strategy

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Maternal, Newborn & Child Health program works to expand coverage of high-impact interventions to ensure that women and newborns survive and stay healthy during childbirth and beyond. We invest in efforts to adapt and develop innovative tools, technologies, and treatments; improve the quality of healthcare services and practices and the interactions between health workers and families; and advocate for national and global policies that benefit maternal, newborn, and child survival and health.

A mother and newborn at Dalocha Health Center in Ethiopia.

We work closely with governments, United Nations and bilateral agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector, and we collaborate with other programs at the foundation in areas such as discovery, integrated delivery, nutrition, family planning, childhood infectious diseases, policy and advocacy, and communications.

We support research across discovery, development, and implementation sciences in many parts of the world that can lead to better ways to save the lives of women and newborns and improve their health.

Our efforts to achieve impact on a broad scale are currently focused in Ethiopia, northern Nigeria, and the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These areas account for a significant portion of the world’s maternal and newborn deaths.

Areas of Focus

Improving Tools, Technologies, and Treatments

A new mother in Katsina, Nigeria, practices kangaroo mother care with her newborn who was born prematurely. © Save the Children

To address the primary risk factors for maternal and newborn deaths, we work to adapt existing preventive and curative tools, technologies, and treatments as well as develop new ones that are more effective and affordable and will be more readily accepted by families and health workers in rural and community clinics, health centers, and hospitals. These include ways to manage postpartum hemorrhage, treat newborn infections using simplified antibiotic treatment regimens, and clean the umbilical cord.

Improving Healthcare and Health Practices

A new mother practices kangaroo mother care at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi.

We work to help community-level healthcare providers advance their knowledge and skills and expand their use of innovative tools. One key priority is improving the quality of care in primary healthcare facilities where women give birth. Health workers can also improve outcomes for women and children by disseminating good health practices such as hand washing, immunization, postpartum family planning, and exclusive breastfeeding.

We seek to identify and reduce barriers to the adoption of effective interventions, disseminate information about maternal and newborn health, conduct large-scale educational campaigns, mobilize local networks to improve household and community practices and social norms, and reduce financial barriers to obtaining care.

To reach adolescent girls, who are particularly at risk during pregnancy and childbirth, we work with the foundation’s Family Planning and Nutrition programs on ways to deliver integrated services. 

Advocating for Better Policies and Strategies

By strengthening the skills and capacities of local advocates, we promote policies and strategies that enable countries to increase the use of lifesaving health interventions, raise awareness of overlooked risk factors for newborn and maternal mortality, and expand the use of essential medicines. We also work to achieve global agreement on a set of uniform standards for health targets and measurements, which will help with planning, monitoring, and more informed decision making.

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