By Benedict David, Principal Health Advisor, AusAID
Sadly, having enough food for their families to eat, water to drink and a school for their children to attend will be enough reason for millions of mothers in the developing world to celebrate this Sunday. That’s if they even make it through childbirth.
According to Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report released this week, over half of all births are not attended by skilled health personnel and, on average, 1 in 30 women will die from pregnancy-related causes.
The needs of pregnant women in the developing world are no different to those in wealthy countries like Australia. However, while Australia has on average $3000 to $3500 dollars per person for health care per year, developing countries such as PNG have no more than $30 to $40 dollars for health care per person per year. Less than 25 per cent of births are attended by skilled health personnel in Afghanistan, Chad, Laos and Nepal. In Ethiopia, this number is even lower at only six per cent.
Australia is working hard to turn this situation around and give mothers in poor countries a chance. Australia supports maternal health programs in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, East Timor, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Nepal and across the Pacific.
Australian aid programs help developing countries improve their maternal health services. Health workers and midwives are trained to attend deliveries and facilities,
commodities and medicines are provided. Initiatives also aim to support poor women and communities gain access to pre and post-natal care as well as family planning.
The good news this Mother’s Day is that, slowly but surely, progress is being made. In Bangladesh, Australian support has contributed to an unprecedented 40 per cent decline in maternal mortality. This means maternal mortality declined from 322 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001 to 194 per 100,000 in 2010.
In Afghanistan, one of the toughest countries in the world to be a woman, Australia is funding efforts to give mothers and newborns better access to trained community health workers and midwives. According to the State of the World’s Mothers report,
‘Afghanistan has made noteworthy improvements in maternal and child health and
well-being. Skilled birth attendance has risen from 14 to 24 per cent. Female life expectancy is up by almost 5 per cent’.
Of course there is still more much work to be done. African nations record alarmingly grim statistics with the report ranking Niger the worst place in the world to be a mother.
The State of the World’s Mothers report sums it up best:
‘Statistics are far more than numbers. It is the human despair and lost opportunities behind these numbers that call for changes to ensure that mothers everywhere have the basic tools they need to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life for themselves, their children, and for future generations to come.’
About the author: Benedict David
Ben David is AusAID’s Principal Health Specialist, responsible for the technical oversight of the AusAID bilateral and multilateral health portfolio. Ben has a background in health policy, planning and financing; health sector reform; and aid effectiveness in health. He has experience in a range of country contexts across Africa, Europe and Asia-Pacific.