Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

3 New Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa to Save Women's and Newborn Lives

August 29, 2012

One of the major milestones for any country is to reduce the rate of maternal mortality—the number of women who die during pregnancy or within 42 days after childbirth. In developing countries where access to health care during pregnancy can be scarce or grossly underused due to lack of education, financial costs, and proximity to health centers women die unnecessarily from pregnancy and birth complications. In fact, current statistics peg maternal deaths at 800 per day worldwide. In most cases, when the mothers die the babies die as well. It’s why looking at initiatives and programs that work, and work well, is so critical. If we can replicate these programs, bring them to other countries or regions, we can save more lives.

There is good news. Women are increasingly surviving pregnancy and childbirth due to greater access to health workers, including midwives, as well as health care centers. International agencies and developing country governments are working in partnership to reduce maternal death rates in order to meet the goal of reducing by 75 percent the number of women who die during pregnancy, childbirth, and immediately afterwards, in the most vulnerable countries.

There are multiple projects throughout Africa that are delivering results.

Earlier this month the international organization Oxfam was commended by chiefs and elders in the Upper East Region of Ghana for their Maternal Mortality Project. Oxfam, with partners, introduced two initiatives in six regions to increase the number of women who give birth with skilled providers, in health facilities. The organization provides education to traditional birth attendants (TBAs) about how to provide care to pregnant women and women who have just given birth, and formed Community Health Committees (CHCs). So far, the program, which is set to end in 2012, has resulted in an increased number of births in health care facilities and no maternal deaths in 2011.

An article published on last week reveals new data about decreasing maternal mortality figures in Uganda. Citing statistics from the Countdown to 2015: Building a Future for Women and Children report Uganda’s maternal death rate was almost half what it was in 2006 when 600 women died for every 1000 live births. Now, that number is down to 310. The goal, by 2015, for Uganda is to reduce this number by half again.

In South Africa another CARMMA (Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality) program (“No Woman Should Die While Giving Life”) was launched this week in the northwest region of the country. CARMMA is a continent-wide initiative created by the African Union to drastically reduce maternal deaths. The North West CARMMA Center will not only provide health facilities where women can deliver their babies with health professionals, but will also house a milk bank for premature babies.

Despite the good news about maternal health programs that work in Africa, there are challenges that must continue to be addressed.

Ghana’s maternal health rate rose this year, for example, as did Liberia’s. However, as more maternal health projects are created, and produce successful results, more opportunities exist to bring these successes to other countries on the continent; or to other regions of the same country. Organizations must work, and are working, together in sub-Saharan Africa to make major improvements in the maternal mortality rates in each country. Our mothers’ and children’s lives depend upon it.

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