Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Ensuring Maternal Health in a World of 7 Billion

October 31, 2011

This post is part of our coverage of the "world at 7 billion." On October 31, 2011 we hit the 7 billion mark, in regards to world population. What does this mean for critical issues like health and food security globally? Read more posts here.

"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock

I often hear people say that the world has become smaller, referring to our ability to travel with relative ease between countries and continents. But in fact, the world is getting bigger every day.

It is estimated that today, October 31, 2011, the world population will reach seven billion people. We are exponentially populating the planet—more than 350 thousand babies are born every day, and individuals are living longer. With seven billion humans come great challenges, but also the possibility of great accomplishments that can only be achieved together. These challenges require new partnerships that bring together resources and knowledge from many people.

Certainly, individuals make a significant difference in the world. One midwife can save the lives of both a mother and child during birth, giving the newborn a ten-fold chance at survival because she has a mother to care for her. One surgeon can bring a woman suffering from obstetric fistula back to health and back to her family. I often think of my friend Wang Lixin, a midwife in Beijing, China, who not only resuscitated the baby of her friend but trained another 150 midwives to resuscitate newborns struggling for their first breaths—and she did it in one year. How many babies must they have saved!

But to make a difference for the one thousand women and girls who die every day in pregnancy or childbirth, we need to combine our efforts. There is a Kenyan proverb that says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” This approach to maternal and child health inspired Johnson & Johnson to become the first corporate partner with Health 4+ (H4+), a collaboration that embraces the benefits of working together to serve the needs of women and children.

Health 4+ comprises the United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, World Bank, and the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS—all organizations that have positively impacted global health in their individual work. It is hoped that adding private partners like Johnson & Johnson, as well as government partners, will bring complementary skills to the challenge of improving health for mothers and babies. This unique public-private partnership creates new opportunities that will make a significant difference.

Our partnership with the H4+ centers on training skilled birth attendants in Ethiopia and Tanzania—two countries with high maternal and newborn mortality rates and strong government commitments to improve maternal-child health. This new partnership is aligned with the commitment that Johnson & Johnson made in 2010 to the UN’s global effort to improve the health of women and children around the world.

Great accomplishments cannot be achieved alone. I am hopeful that partnering with H4+ will make more pregnancies wanted, more childbirths safe, and save the lives of women and girls in Ethiopia and Tanzania. That’s why partnerships are often described as working in “concert”—it takes a whole orchestra to play a symphony. I can already hear the music.

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