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Maternal Health:  The Countdown to 2015 [Part 1 of 5]

An initiative by the UN and other groups is working to reduce child and mother mortality to meet the standards set by the Millennium Development Goals. The goals call for the number of mothers and infants who die in childbirth to be cut in half by 2015. From Cape Town, Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Unathi Kondile looks at the work of the effort called Countdown to 2015: Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival.

The countdown is tracking and publicizing the progress of 68 countries that account for most of the deaths of mothers and children. Experts working on the campaign say 16 countries are on track to reduce mother and child deaths – including Egypt, Morocco and Eritrea. But 26 of the 68 countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, to name a few, have experienced an increase in the number of child mortality rates.

Ann Starrs is the president of Family Care International and the co-chair of the Board of the Global Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. She describes the situation in countries that are the focus of the Countdown to 2015 campaign, "When you look at Africa there are a number of countries where child fatalities have gotten worse. Some of those countries are countries that are riddled with conflict, HIV, or the health facilities are just overwhelmed with dealing with such [a] crisis. There are also countries where there've been serious economic downturns. So those countries where there's been a lack of health investments are our priority."

As part of the effort to improve the health of mothers and infants, the Countdown initiative holds regular international conferences that bring together policymakers and health care experts. One recent conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa. Starrs attended.

"We want the delegations to look at the country-specific files, the data on what's happening or what's not happening in their countries and to say, 'Okay we are really lagging at skilled attendants on delivery. So we need to invest more on or we need to prioritize on this.' And they can learn from each other, some of the experts that are here and hear what are some of the strategies and use that information to really make sure they invest more and that they invest more effectively – so that we all achieve the target for 2015," she says.

Starrs says between 2003 and 2006, donors have increased their aid from two billion dollars to three-and-a half billion. But health experts say that's less than a third of the amount still needed to scale up interventions to promote maternal, newborn and child health. They say investment is needed in resources that will improve health systems throughout these 68 priority countries.