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“The world must come together to save women’s and children’s lives,” said Gates. “In poor countries, pregnancy and childbirth often end in tragedy. Our goal must be to build a world where every birth brings joy and hope for the future.”
Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, discussed her vision for maternal and child health in a speech at the Women Deliver 2010 conference, an international meeting of policymakers, health experts, and advocates.
Gates said it is critical to challenge the notion that large numbers of maternal and child deaths are inevitable, or even acceptable, in poor countries.
“Every year, millions of newborns die within a matter of days or weeks, and hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth,” said Gates. “The death toll is so huge, and has persisted for so long, it’s easy to think we’re powerless to do much about it. The truth is, we can prevent most of these deaths – and at a stunningly low cost – if we take action now.”
Gates highlighted the importance of designing integrated health programs for women and children that address multiple needs – such as family planning, prenatal care, safe childbirth, and nutrition.
“The Gates Foundation is joining many others in the global health community in working toward a more integrated approach to women’s and children’s health,” said Gates. “Women and children have a continuum of needs, and we must design health programs accordingly.”
New Progress and Momentum on Maternal and Child Health
In her remarks today, Gates said that investments in maternal and child health programs have brought new hope and opportunity to developing countries.
“Most maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented with existing, low-cost solutions – such as basic prenatal care, or educating mothers about the importance of keeping babies warm,” said Gates. “Countries that have made women’s and children’s health a priority – and have invested in proven solutions – are achieving amazing results.”
Recent studies from researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation provide compelling new evidence of global progress. Researchers found that the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35% in the past 30 years – from more than 500,000 annually in 1980 to about 343,000 in 2008. Deaths among children under five are declining at a surprisingly rapid rate, globally and in many developing countries. An estimated 7.7 million young children will die this year, compared to 11.9 million in 1990, and 16 million in 1970.
Gates noted that the next several months are a critical window of opportunity to secure new global action. Canada is urging donor countries to endorse a major maternal and child health initiative at the G8 summit in Muskoka, Ontario, later this month.
“This is a pivotal moment for women’s and children’s health,” said Gates. “Canada is proposing a bold but achievable plan that can save countless lives – and I hope all G8 members will lend their strong support. The need is urgent and clear.”
Gates commended the United States, Norway, and other donor countries for making women’s and children’s health a foreign aid priority, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for crafting a global action plan for maternal and child health. The plan will help accelerate progress toward Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, the global targets for reducing maternal and child mortality by 2015.
New Gates Funding for Maternal and Child Health, Family Planning, Nutrition
To help advance a comprehensive approach to women’s and children’s health, Gates announced that the Gates Foundation will invest $1.5 billion from 2010 through 2014 to support innovative projects addressing family planning; health care for pregnant women, newborns, and children; and nutrition.
This new pledge will add to the foundation’s spending in other areas that affect women’s and children’s health – such as developing and delivering children’s vaccines, and preventing pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.
A significant portion of the new funding will support programs in India, Ethiopia, and other countries that have relatively high rates of maternal and child mortality. The foundation is providing initial grants totaling $94 million in India and $60 million in Ethiopia, with additional grants to be announced over the coming year. The grants will primarily fund non-governmental organizations and research institutions, and will be closely coordinated with government programs.
The new grants will support a variety of projects, including efforts to:
Support the development of comprehensive, integrated programs, for example, by training front-line health workers to provide multiple services
Develop and introduce interventions that could have a major health impact, such as simplified antibiotics for newborn infections and more cost-effective treatment for post-partum hemorrhage
Conduct social and behavioral research on promoting lifesaving practices such as immediate, exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact to keep newborns warm
Develop effective strategies to expand the availability and use of voluntary family planning services in poor urban areas
Rigorously evaluate innovative programs, and share effective strategies with other countries
“Ethiopians know that safeguarding the health of women and children is critical for future generations to prosper,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of health. “This funding and support will help us pursue innovative strategies to save lives more quickly and effectively.”