In an era of high technology and medical advances, the yearly death of 11 million children and over half a million mothers around the world seems particularly senseless. Most deaths are caused by a lack of access to health care, malnutrition, or simple infections. And most of them happen among the poor in developing countries in regions such as the Indian subcontinent and Sub Saharan Africa.
Half the deaths are from malnutrition; 4 million are babies in the first month of life, killed by newborn complications and lack of access to obstetrics care. The World Health Organization and many other institutions, are trying to promote simple and economic ways to save millions of mothers and children. Dr. Ann Tinker is at Save the Children.
"This is the delivery kit from Nepal, this one is from Vietnam. What these kits do is provide a clean blade to cut the umbilical cord, soap for hand washing and a plastic sheet to place the baby," says Ann Tinker.
According to Dr. Tinker, it is equally important that the mother's chances of survival be improved as well. She says in some regions in Africa and Asia, if the mother dies the child has very little hope of living, particularly if is a girl because they are considered less valuable. Experts say maternal health and mortality are directly related to access to health services. In turn, that is strongly related to poverty, and the lack of education and transportation.
Dr. Mirta Roses is the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO. "We know that there are so many disparities, the gap between the ones that are better off and the ones that have nothing is widening. And so the projection is that if the world is not focused on fighting a little more for equity and equity in the health outcome the situation will get worse," says Dr. Roses.
According to the World Bank, "Ill health is one of the principle reasons why households become poor and remain poor." Some experts say that includes reproductive health; 70,000 women die every year from unsafe illegal abortion. In Washington DC, Dr. Elizabeth Lule is an adviser for Maternal and Child Health at the World Bank.
"We do know that about 200 million women have unintended pregnancies and they have a need to access reproductive health services including family planning,? says Dr. Lule.
As to the children who are born, in the 1980s child mortality went down. Lately the rate has held steady or even risen in some countries. And in others, child mortality rates have not changed in the last 50 years, especially in African countries such as Lesotho, Nigeria and Madagascar.
?For mothers and children we lack the political commitment to make the necessary investment. The gender inequalities are pervasive in many of the poor countries," says Dr. Lule.
"We cannot continue the way we have. We must look to the future and who is our future if not a small child who is being born tomorrow. We must improve the health of mothers and children for the future of the world, for the future of peace,? says Ann Tinker.
On this World Health Day 2005, when every mother and child should count, experts say that for too many women in too many countries, pregnancy is a dance with death and not one of joy.