There?s a call this week for urgent action to stem the very high death rates of mothers, babies and children in poor countries. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, more than 300 delegates are attending the first-ever assembly of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (4/17-20). 

Partnership Director Dr. Francisco Songane outlines the scope of the problem.

?We have every year, 11-million deaths of mothers, newborns and children. If you break this figure down, you get 530,000 maternal deaths per year. You get four-million neonatal deaths per year. Neonatal period (is) from birth up to the first month of life. And you get an additional six-million under the age of five dying,? he says.

What?s more, he says that there are three and a half million babies who are stillborn each year.

Dr. Songane puts the problem in perspective by comparing it to the toll taken by major diseases.

?We talk a lot, almost every day, about HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. These supercede the total number of the deaths due to tuberculosis, HIV and malaria all together,? he says.

Most of the maternal, newborn and child deaths occur in the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, parts of the Pacific region and some pockets in Latin America. Seventy-five countries in all.

He says, ?Those countries represent 73 percent of the world population. And they have 98 percent of all the deaths among the mothers, children and newborn. So it is a high burden.?

The director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health says solutions to the problem are known. These include strengthening and expanding the health systems in poor countries, so known medical interventions can be made widely available.

Dr. Songane says that too often there?s fragmentation of health services. That is, many groups with good intentions often have different agendas. He adds there is also a need for political will and accountability. And while money is part of the solution, it?s a big part.

?To get the basic services for maternal and child health in these 75 high burden countries, you?ll need an additional $9 billion per year just to get the basic services,? he says.

He says to go beyond that and address human resources and infrastructure issues, it would cost an additional $59 billion.

Two of the Millennium Development Goals, which are supposed to be achieved by 2015, address maternal and child mortality.