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Geneva, May 9 – More than 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or the first weeks after birth — equivalent to one death happening every seven seconds — mostly from preventable or treatable causes, according to a new report from the United Nations on Tuesday.
The report, improving maternal and newborn health and survival and reducing stillbirth, shows that global progress in reducing deaths of pregnant women, mothers and babies has flatlined for eight years since 2015, due to decreasing investments in maternal and newborn health.
Since 2015, there have been around 290,000 maternal deaths each year, 1.9 million stillbirths — babies who die after 28 weeks of pregnancy — and a staggering 2.3 million newborn deaths, which are deaths in the first month of life.
“Pregnant women and newborns continue to die at unacceptably high rates worldwide, and the Covid-19 pandemic has created further setbacks to providing them with the healthcare they need,” said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO).
“If we wish to see different results, we must do things differently. More and smarter investments in primary healthcare are needed now so that every woman and baby — no matter where they live — has the best chance of health and survival,” she added.
The Covid pandemic, rising poverty, and worsening humanitarian crises have intensified pressures on stretched health systems.
Just one in 10 countries (of more than 100 surveyed) report having sufficient funds to implement their current plans.
Moreover, according to the latest WHO survey on the pandemic’s impacts on essential health services, around a quarter of countries still report ongoing disruptions to vital pregnancy and postnatal care and services for sick children.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, babies, children and women who were already exposed to threats to their well-being, especially those living in fragile countries and emergencies, are facing the heaviest consequences of decreased spending and efforts on providing quality and accessible healthcare,” said Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Director of Health.
Funding shortfalls and underinvestment in primary healthcare can devastate survival prospects. For instance, while prematurity is now the leading cause of all under-five deaths globally, less than a third of countries report having sufficient newborn care units to treat small and sick babies.
To increase survival rates, women and babies must have quality, affordable healthcare before, during and after childbirth, as well as access to family planning services.
More skilled and motivated health workers, especially midwives, are needed, alongside essential medicines and supplies, safe water, and reliable electricity, suggested the report, launched at a global conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.