This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post UK
Maternal bliss and healthy newborns are trending at the moment with the arrival of little Prince George. Kate and William looked picture perfect with their new baby, which brought smiles to people around the world who joined in congratulations to the happy couple and prayers for the little one.
While following news on the royal birth, I started to think about the mothers whom I have met in the developing world. Every mother I’ve met has shared stories: happy stories of joyful babies, tough stories of having little to eat while pregnant or walking for miles to reach a hospital while in labour, and heartbreaking stories of children who did not even reach their fifth birthday.
In the past two decades, the number of children dying each year under the age of five has fallen from 12 million to just seven million. This is real progress.
There are many good news stories.
Shaheen is a young mother from Pakistan. In her first pregnancy the local Traditional Birth Attendant tried to deliver the baby when she wasn’t actually in labour, causing complications. In her second pregnancy, a World Vision Social Mobiliser saw during a routine visit that Shaheen was at risk and would need a hospital delivery, and helped ensure a safe birth.
Archana is a mother and community activist from India. She has organised kitchen gardens to help ensure lactating mothers have enough to eat and to help raise funds to support women’s support groups.
Local action by local heroes is saving and changing lives. But for the families of the seven million children who do not survive such good news stories are cold comfort. They need our support. Every year,
- Preterm Complications kill one million children
- Pneumonia kills one million children
- Newborn Infections kill 700,000 children
- Diarrhoea kills 700,000 children
- Birth Complications kill 600,000 children
- Malaria kills 500,000 children
The pain of their tragedy is multiplied by the fact that governments, the UN, business and civil society organisations like World Vision all know how to prevent these deaths. These children are dying simply because we are not doing enough and we are not reaching them in time. We know, and have access to the effective, affordable interventions that work. Many are simple things – education about breastfeeding, good nutrition and hygiene, early identification of symptoms – which can be provided by a parent or community health worker; others are more complex issues requiring midwives and doctors; all are affordable if governments and donors fulfil the promises they have made. Universal health care should be a right and not a luxury.
Investment in more rural health centres is particularly key. In countries where most births are at home, it is essential that investment at the community and family level is increased.
In the year 2000, world leaders pledged to reduce the number of deaths of children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015. At the current rates, this goal is 15 years off being reached. Not because we don’t know how, but because we have not yet done what we know must be done. Now is the time. Every birth is headline news. Every mother deserves our care.