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A Hopeful Future: How We Can End Preventable Deaths of Moms and Kids Worldwide

Organized by Save the Children Action Network (SCAN)

October 19
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
The University of Washington (William Foege Building)
3720 15th Ave NE, Room S060
Seattle, WA


Since 1990, the world has reduced mortality rates for children under 5 by more than one-half. The U.S. government, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, has led this international effort to provide developing countries tool to care for their children – often with simple, proven and inexpensive interventions that address leading causes of death, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

Building on those gains, in 2014 the U.S. declared ending preventable children and maternal deaths around the world a national priority. But where do we go from here? What can we do to transform these words from a commitment into a reality?

Learn from an expert panel what are the current maternal and child health needs around the world, what the U.S. has done thus far to improve the health and well-being of these women and children, and what can be done to truly end all preventable deaths of mothers, infants and young children.

A Price Too High to Bear: The costs of maternal mortality to families and communities

This guest post was written by Amy Boldosser-Boesch, the Interim President and CEO at Family Care International. This article originally appeared on the MDG456Live Hub, curated coverage of women and children during the UN General Assembly. 

During the UNGA this week, many partners are committing to deliver on promises to accelerate progress on MDGs 4 and 5. There has also been a renewed focus on the importance of solid data to track progress on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and to hold governments and other stakeholders accountable for meeting their commitments. New research conducted in Kenya by Family Care International (FCI), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the KEMRI-CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration has the potential to increase the momentum of efforts to save the lives of nearly 300,000 women who die each year (5,500 of them in Kenya) from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Each of these avoidable, premature deaths is a tragedy in its own right, and a terrible injustice. Each of these women — some of them barely more than girls — has a right to life and health, and to a standard of health care that protects her from preventable illness, injury, and death.

But we who work to improve maternal health have argued for years that each of these deaths also brings countless additional layers of loss, pain, and destruction. The tragic, sudden death of a woman in the prime of life — in many cases already a mother and often the most economically productive member of the family — begins a cascade of loss and pain that upends the lives of those around her: her newborn baby (if it survives) and her older children, husband, parents, and other members of her family and community. The cost of a maternal death is, quite literally, a price too high to bear.

This new study provides urgently needed data to help persuade governments, donors, and policy makers that investments in women’s health and maternal health are also investments in newborns and children, in stable families, in education and community development, in stronger national economies and, ultimately, in sustainable development.

Based on interviews and focus group discussions with families, across a poor rural area in Siaya County in western Kenya, that had lost a family member to maternal death over a two-year period, we found that:

  • When a mother dies in or around childbirth, her newborn baby is unlikely to survive.
    Of 59 maternal deaths in the study, only 15 babies survived their first two months of life.
  • A mother’s death harms the educational and life opportunities of her surviving children.
    Many children had to leave school because the loss of a mother’s income meant that they couldn’t pay tuition fees, needed to work for a living, or had to take up essential household chores.
  • The cost of emergency care (even when unsuccessful), combined with high funeral costs, puts families under a crushing economic burden.
    Families spent more on funerals than their total annual expenditure on food, housing, and other household costs, after having already spent 1/3 of their annual consumption expenditure on medical costs.
  • Loss of income and high, unexpected costs send many families into a spiral of debt, poverty, and instability.
    Many families, under desperate financial pressure, had to sell household property, borrow from moneylenders, or move children out of the family home.

At the national launch of the research findings, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Hon. James Macharia, said, “A mother’s death ignites a chain of disruption, economic loss, and emotional pain that often leads to the death of her baby, diminished educational and life opportunities for her surviving children, and a deepening cycle of poverty for her family.” As the MDG deadline approaches and the post-2015 development agenda is defined, we hope this research will help to catalyze renewed commitment to ending preventable maternal mortality, so that no woman has to pay the high price of losing her life, and so that families, communities and nations no longer have to bear the burden of maternal death.

Learn more: On October 7th, 2014 (2:30 – 3:30 PM EDT), Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Family Care International (FCI), and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) will host Women’s Lives Matter: The impact of a maternal death on families and communities, a live webcast. The webcast will feature research findings from the Kenya study as well as those from four other African countries which document the dramatic economic and social impacts of a maternal death. Panelists will also discuss opportunities and strategies for using these important findings to advocate for political commitment, policy change, and sustained investment in reproductive, maternal, and newborn health in the context of the evolving post-2015 global health and development agenda.

More information on the webcast and subsequent Q&A:

Accelerating Action in Maternal and Child Health Act of 2014

Before the Senate adjourned for mid-term elections, Senators Christopher Coons (DE) and Lindsey Graham (SC) (with Senator Benjamin Cardin [MD] as a co-sponsor) introduced the Accelerating Action in Maternal and Child Health Act of 2014 (S.2853). While the bill is unlikely to pass before the 113th Congressional session ends, it signals the U.S. government’s continued commitment to maternal, newborn and child health and sets the stage for more comprehensive legislation in the next Congress, which will convene in January 2015.

The goal behind S.2853 is to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths in USAID’s 24 focus countries by 2020 leading to 15 million fewer child deaths and saving the lives of 600,000 mothers.

The legislation calls for the President to develop a strategy that builds on progress and success to date; scales up the most effective programs; streamlines existing resources; and increases transparency and accountability. Specific objectives and measurable benchmarks should be established. The legislation also establishes new public-private financing mechanisms that would be based on the recommendations of a high-level panel convened at this year’s UN General Assembly.

S.2853 recommends that the strategy focus on four areas of interventions:

• Safe motherhood and newborn survival

• Health households and school, including WASH

• Nutrition

• Healthy childhood

Although S.2853 is unlikely to pass this year, GHC will continue to work with the MNCH Roundtable and Congress to ensure a robust bill for next year.

Keeping a Better Watch Over Maternal, Newborn, Child Health

This is a guest blog written by Arianna Levitus, policy and advocacy associate with PATH, one of the sponsors of the event held today.

WASHINGTON, DC — “This is a pivotal month, in a pivotal year, when the world will take stock of promises made to women and children,” Sallie Craig Huber, global lead for results management at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), announced today to a standing room-only crowd at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Ms. Huber was introducing a panel of speakers to address the challenging topic of improving monitoring, transparency and accountability for maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). The three panelists who followed Ms. Huber demonstrated the need to improve the way we monitor and evaluate programs for maternal and child health to capture and use data that can inform meaningful and effective program design and policy change.

The briefing came at a crucial time. As world leaders plan to meet later this month to take stock of progress towards the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the United Nations Summit, the MNCH community is acutely aware that progress toward MDG goals four (reduce child mortality) and five (improve maternal health) are lagging.

Marge Koblinsky, senior technical advisor for Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), suggested that current maternal health indicators are not enough. They are difficult to measure and do not always paint a clear picture of the actual health outcomes of our interventions, she said.

Ms. Koblinsky provided data showing that other indicators, such as contraceptive prevalence rates, were more closely matched to maternal mortality outcomes.

Ellen Starbird, deputy director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), suggested that it is time to “get under the numbers” to determine why we are not getting the outcomes we want. Describing the important role that monitoring and evaluation plays in the president’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), she said that it is time for innovation in monitoring and evaluation and that the GHI principles of “innovation and research” and “Improve metrics, monitoring, and evaluation” are related.

Local context and health system capacity are crucial, according to Monique Widyono, program officer for gender, violence and rights at PATH. If we want to increase coverage of services in an area, we also need to think about workforce training and the quality of those services. Ms. Widyono encouraged more attention to be paid to the development of local and sustainable research capacity that would allow for more evidence-based decision making at the country level.

The discussion was hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar’s Global Health Initiative, along with the Maternal Health Task Force and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  It was the third in a series of policy briefings about under-explored issues in maternal, newborn and child health, cosponsored by the Global Health Council, MSH and PATH.

A recorded webcast is available for viewing.