Since 2000, child deaths have been reduced by almost half and maternal deaths by more than a third, mainly due to better access to affordable and quality health services however new estimates published by United Nations groups led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) warn that a pregnant woman or a newborn dies somewhere in the world every 11 seconds, which means 2.8 million lives a year.
“Around the world, birth is a joyful occasion. However, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, who has opted to “do everything necessary to invest in Universal health coverage to save these precious lives. ”
In the same vein, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recalled that “in countries that provide all health services that are safe, affordable and of high quality, women and babies survive and thrive.” “This is the power of universal health coverage,” he added.
Even so, the new estimates reveal that 6.2 million children under 15 died in 2018, and more than 290,000 women died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2017. Of the total infant deaths, 5.3 million they occurred in the first 5 years, with almost half of these in the first month of life.
“Women and newborns are more vulnerable during and immediately after delivery,” mainly due to preventable causes, according to new estimates. Children face the highest risk of dying in the first month, especially if they are born too soon or too small, have complications during birth, birth defects or contract infections. About a third of these deaths occur on the first day and almost three quarters in the first week alone.
“A pair of skilled hands to help mothers and newborns at birth, along with clean water, proper nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death,” Fore added. For children who survive the first month, infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria account for the majority of deaths worldwide. In older children, injuries, including traffic and drowning, become important causes of death and disability.
Maternal deaths are caused by obstetric complications such as high blood pressure during pregnancy and severe bleeding or infections during or after childbirth and increasingly due to an existing disease or condition aggravated by the effects of pregnancy.
Estimates also show large inequalities throughout the world, with women and children in sub-Saharan Africa facing a substantially higher risk of death than in all other regions. Maternal death levels are almost 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa and their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, compared to high-income countries.
In 2018, 1 in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday, this is 15 times higher than the risk a child faces in Europe, where only 1 in 196 children under 5 years of age dies.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa face a risk of death of 1 in 37 during pregnancy or childbirth. In comparison, the lifetime risk for a woman in Europe is 1 in 6500. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia account for about 80% of global deaths of mothers and children. Countries in conflict or humanitarian crisis often have weak health systems that prevent women and children from accessing essential life-saving care.
The world has made considerable progress in reducing infant and maternal mortality. Since 1990, there has been a 56% reduction in the deaths of children under 15 years old from 14.2 million to 6.2 million in 2018. The countries of East and Southeast Asia have made more progress, with an 80% decrease in under five years old And from 2000 to 2017, the maternal mortality rate decreased by 38%. South Asia has made the greatest improvements in maternal survival with a nearly 60% reduction in the maternal mortality rate since 2000.
Belarus, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Morocco, Mongolia, Rwanda, Timor-Leste and Zambia are some of the countries that have shown substantial progress in reducing infant or maternal mortality.
The success is due to the political will to improve access to quality medical care by investing in the health workforce, introducing free care for pregnant women and children and supporting family planning. Many of these countries focus on primary health care and universal health coverage.