At a glance
- Maternal and newborn deaths have fallen in recent decades, but progress has slowed and millions of women and newborns still die during childbirth and the first month of life—most of them from preventable causes.
- We invest in research to understand why some mothers and babies are more vulnerable and to support the development and testing of innovations that can reach them in the right place and at the right time.
- We work alongside partners to strengthen health care systems so they can support sustainable scale-up of high-impact innovations and improve the quality of care that women and newborns receive.
- We advocate for evidence-based policies and programs and better coordination of donor and domestic resources and approaches to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes.
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The foundation’s Maternal, Newborn & Child Health program envisions a world in which healthy mothers deliver healthy babies and receive quality care from skilled and well-equipped health care workers, including midwives. We invest in understanding the biological and social vulnerabilities of women and babies to inform the development of innovative tools and practices that can strengthen health care systems, reduce inequities, and improve health outcomes for women, newborns, and children.
Our team supports work at the country level and facilitates national, regional, and global policy and financing strategies that can expand the use of proven interventions. We work closely with governments, professional associations, multilateral organizations, civil society organizations, and the private sector, and we collaborate with other programs and teams across the foundation (including those that focus on research and development, nutrition, family planning, delivery of health products and services, and gender equality).
Areas of focus
We invest in collecting data and evidence to better understand which populations of households, pregnant women, mothers, and newborns are most susceptible to poor health outcomes and why. This includes understanding care pathways and identifying and addressing the barriers that prevent these women and newborns from receiving high-quality care, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and in the first years of life.
We invest in diagnostics, devices, therapeutics, treatment algorithms, nutritional interventions, care delivery approaches, and other tools to support the health and nutrition of pregnant women and their babies and improve the care provided by health workers, primarily targeting the period between conception and a child’s second birthday. Working with our partners, we test these tools in the real world to determine their effectiveness and scalability.
We support global, regional, and national partners and initiatives that work to apply new evidence, implement supportive policies, allocate resources, and strengthen accountability mechanisms in order to accelerate adoption of proven innovations. We also offer technical expertise to national governments, including to guide market entry and in-country delivery of interventions.
Why focus on maternal, newborn, and child health?
The global community has achieved significant gains in maternal and newborn health, but progress has slowed and is not evenly distributed around the world. Every year, millions of newborns die within days or weeks of birth, and hundreds of thousands of women die during pregnancy and delivery. Almost all of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income settings and are due to preventable causes such as poor and unequal access to care, fragile delivery systems, infection, and in the case of newborns, complications of low birth weight or prematurity. Ensuring access to high-quality, affordable maternal, newborn, and child health care is critical to building healthier, more equitable communities.
Maternal health is closely linked to newborn survival because vulnerabilities to illness can be passed along from mother to child. While great strides have been made in reducing overall mortality among children under age 5, newborns remain particularly vulnerable, accounting for 47% of all childhood deaths globally. Each year, 2.5 million newborns die within their first month of life, and an additional 2.6 million are stillborn. We need to better understand the root causes of these deaths and design interventions to address them.
Quality of care remains a critical challenge, even though births in health facilities are increasing. According to a 2018 report from The Lancet Global Health Commission on High Quality Health Systems in the SDG Era, poor-quality care is “a bigger barrier to reducing mortality than insufficient access,” with 60% of deaths from preventable causes resulting from poor-quality care. Primary health care systems are often ill-equipped to prevent or address underlying causes of illness or other complications, and patients often lack access to referrals to higher levels of care. Furthermore, resources for health are often insufficient or fragmented and accountability for policy implementation is lacking in many settings.
Against this backdrop, we need to act urgently to accelerate progress to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets of reducing maternal, newborn, and child mortality, improving nutrition, and achieving gender equality.