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WHO Unveils Plan to Cut Child, Maternal Deaths


The World Health Organization has unveiled a new approach for tackling the huge problem of maternal and child mortality. Each year, WHO estimates more than half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth, and nearly 11 million young children die, most of preventable causes. The worst situation is found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organization says 90 percent of all deaths of mothers and young children occur in 60 countries. Most are in Africa. Some are in Southeast Asia.

The Director of the new Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Francisco Songane, says most of these deaths go unnoticed. "It is a problem which is very huge, but neglected,” he explained. “Those women and children are dying silently. We need to give them a voice and we need to raise the profile."

Dr. Songane was a former Minister of Health from Mozambique. He says he believes the new Partnership can succeed where others have failed.

The Partnership is a consortium of 83 organizations composed of United Nations, international and national non-governmental agencies. It includes financial institutions such as the World Bank; private foundations such as the Gates Foundation; and donor countries, among them Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.

Dr. Songane says each organization will coordinate its area of expertise with its partners to avoid a duplication of effort and prevent a waste of resources. He says there are a number of success stories that the Partnership can follow.

"If we give the example of Tanzania, where they made an improvement of 24 percent reduction in child mortality by making sure that the social services are reaching the people most in need,” he cited. “The case of Nepal: over 20 years, they improved the child health by making sure that the community activities like treatment of pneumonia, like vitamin A supplementation at the community level is being done and is being done effectively."

Dr. Songane says recent research finds seven million of the 11.5 million child and maternal deaths could be prevented each year with proven, cost-effective interventions. He says children who are immunized against killer diseases will not die. He says children who get proper treatment for diarrhea and are given access to clean water will not die. He says most women who give birth with a trained professional present will not die.

The World Health Organization says providing basic maternal care costs about $3 per person per year in low-income countries. It says a package of 20 affordable interventions including skilled care at birth, breastfeeding, vaccinations and vitamins could save six million children's lives each year at a cost of only $25 per child.

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