According to a recent United Nations (UN) report, progress in lowering maternal and neonatal fatalities worldwide has stagnated for eight years as a result of diminishing investments in these areas. According to the report, over 4.5 million women and newborns die each year during pregnancy, childbirth, or the first few weeks after birth. This equates to one death every seven seconds, and the majority of these deaths could have been avoided or treated if adequate treatment had been available.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to give pregnant people and newborns the healthcare they need, according to Dr. Anshu Banerjee, director of maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health and ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO). Pregnant women and newborns continue to die at unacceptable high rates around the world. “We must act differently if we want to see different results.
To ensure that every pregnant woman and her child, regardless of where they live, has the best chance of health and survival, more and wiser investments in basic healthcare are currently required.
The report, Improving mother and newborn health and survival and reducing stillbirth, evaluates the most recent data on these deaths—which have comparable risk factors and causes—and keeps tabs on the delivery of crucial medical services.
Overall, the analysis demonstrates that improvements in survival have stalled since 2015, with 290 000 maternal fatalities annually, 1.9 million stillbirths (babies who pass away after 28 weeks of pregnancy), and a startling 2.3 million newborn deaths (deaths that occur within the first month of life). Pressures on already overburdened health services have increased as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, rising poverty, and deteriorating humanitarian issues.
More than 75% of all nations affected by armed conflict and Sub-Saharan Africa report decreasing funding for maternal and neonatal health since 2018. Out of more than 100 nations surveyed, only 1 in 10 say they have enough money to carry out their existing goals. Additionally, a quarter of countries continue to report persistent interruptions to crucial maternity and postnatal care as well as services for sick children, according to the most recent WHO study on the pandemic’s effects on key health services.
According to Steven Lauwerier, Director of Health (a.i.) for UNICEF, “vulnerability, fear, and loss are not distributed equally around the world, as is too frequently the case.” “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.”
The chances of survival can be completely destroyed by funding shortages and underinvestment in primary healthcare. For instance, despite the fact that prematurity is currently the top cause of all fatalities in children under the age of five worldwide, less than a third of nations claim to have enough newborn care facilities to handle small and sickly infants.
While this is going on, almost two thirds of emergency childbirth facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are not thought to be fully functioning, which means they are lacking in things like 24-hour staffing, water, electricity, and basic supplies like medicines and supplies. Less than 60% of pregnant women obtain even four of the eight prenatal exams that the WHO recommends in the worst-affected nations in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, the regions with the highest burden of infant and maternal fatalities.
As stated by Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Director of the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “The death of any woman or young girl during pregnancy or childbirth is a serious violation of their human rights.” It also highlights the essential need for expanding access to high-quality sexual and reproductive health services as a component of universal health care and primary healthcare, particularly in areas where maternal death rates have remained stable or even increased in recent years.
To address maternal and newborn mortality, we must adopt a human rights and gender transformative strategy. It is crucial that we eradicate the root causes of poor maternal health outcomes, such as socioeconomic inequality, discrimination, poverty, and injustice. According to the agencies, women and babies need access to family planning services as well as high-quality, reasonably priced prenatal, postpartum, and maternal healthcare in order to boost survival rates.
Along with necessary medications and supplies, clean water, and dependable electricity, more qualified and motivated healthcare professionals, particularly midwives, are required. The research emphasizes the importance of focusing interventions, particularly crucial subnational planning and investments, on the poorest women and those in vulnerable circumstances who are most likely to miss out on life-saving care.
Addressing detrimental gender stereotypes, biases, and inequities is necessary to further improve mother and neonatal health. According to recent research, only approximately 60% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 decide for themselves about their rights and sexual and reproductive health.
At a significant international conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, the new report was unveiled. The conference promotes focused investments in primary healthcare, innovation, and stronger partnerships across programs that assist countries increase survival in an effort to hasten recovery and improvement in mother and newborn health.
More than 60 nations are not expected to achieve the reduction targets for maternal, neonatal, and stillbirth mortality under the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 based on current trends.
More about maternal and neonatal fatalities
Maternal and neonatal fatalities refer to deaths that occur during childbirth or shortly after delivery. Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 42 days of delivery or termination of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. Neonatal mortality, on the other hand, refers to the death of a newborn within the first 28 days of life.
Maternal and neonatal fatalities remain significant public health challenges, particularly in developing countries where access to quality healthcare services may be limited. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 810 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 94% of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Additionally, an estimated 2.4 million neonatal deaths occur globally every year, with the majority occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Common causes of maternal mortality include severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), and unsafe abortion. On the other hand, neonatal mortality is primarily caused by preterm birth, intrapartum-related complications, and infections.
Efforts to reduce maternal and neonatal fatalities involve improving access to quality healthcare services, including skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and neonatal intensive care. Other interventions include improving access to family planning services to prevent unintended pregnancies, addressing social and cultural barriers to maternal and neonatal health, and improving the overall health of women of reproductive age.
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