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UN's 'Every Woman Every Child' Program Saves Lives

A year ago, the United Nations launched a global campaign called “Every Woman, Every Child,” a public health project aimed at reducing the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Our correspondent reports that while some countries are making progress toward that goal, others lag behind.

“Every Woman Every Child” was designed to speed progress toward two of the United Nations so-called Millennium Development Goals: improving maternal health and raising child survival rates. Reaching those goals could save as many as 16 million lives by 2015. And according to Susana Edjang, the project’s general manager, that will require clearer policies and better health services. She says in just one year, she's already seen some of those positive changes.

“We have seen how changes in policy has resulted in new cadres of health professionals being setup and deployed around countries like Bangladesh," said Edjang. "The momentum is going and we have more commitments on the table.”

Commitments to policy changes and better health services from more than 50 countries, says Yves Bergevin, senior maternal health advisor at the United Nations Population Fund.

“Some governments have committed to changing the age of marriage to age 18," said Bergevin. "Others have increased the access to family planning services. Others have to do with the funding allocations towards health, moving the share going to health to 15 percent of government expenditures.”

Yet, despite these strides, there is much work left to do:

“A woman today in 2011 dies in child birth every two minutes," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted at a recent meeting of global health experts that between 1990 and 2008, there was a 34 percent drop in the maternal mortality rate worldwide. But she said even if the rate went down 40 to 50 percent in places like Bangladesh and Nepal, pregnant women in other places haven’t been so fortunate.

“A woman in Sub Saharan Africa today remains 136 times more likely to die in childbirth than one in a developed country," said Clinton.

Owen Montgomery was in West Africa recently and saw the health challenges first-hand:

"In parts of the world such as Gambia, where I was just recently, it's more than a two-hour ride by ambulance if you have an ambulance to get to a hospital where they can do a delivery," said Montgomery.

And that, says U.S.AID administrator Rajiv Shah, is why it's essential to find new ways to give pregnant women - especially those living in rural areas - quicker access to critical health services.

“Like low cost resuscitations devices, improved jaundice treatment systems, electronic and cell-phone-based blood monitoring, new drugs and diagnostics," said Shah.

The U.N. Population Fund's Yves Bergevin says he has seen progress in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burkina Faso. He noted that “Every Woman, Every Child” is partnering not just with governments but also with private foundations, non-governmental groups and corporations.

“So [we are] trying to go from business-as-usual to a global movement for women and children, with real measurable commitments that will keep partners accountable," he said.

Something, Bergevin says, that will be very different from the past.