Experts call for increased efforts to improve maternal and newborn child health in Africa


More than 50 government, civil society, academic and United Nations experts came together for a meeting coordinated by the African Union (AU) in partnership with UN Women from 24 to 26 April in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to review key frameworks and initiatives on maternal and newborn child health and recommend actions for reduction of maternal and child deaths in Africa.

During the meeting, which was held at the sidelines of the Sixth Conference of African Union Ministers of Health, experts stressed the importance of gender equality in reducing maternal mortality as part of their review of the Africa Union Commission’s Annual Status Report on Maternal Newborn and Child Health in Africa 2013.

According to the 2013 Annual Status Report, more than 20 African countries have under-five child mortality rates exceeding 100 deaths per 1000 live births. Despite the fact that Africa has reduced maternal mortality by 41 per cent between 1990 and 2010, more than 60 per cent of the African countries have more than 300 deaths per 100,000 live births.

“Our approach is to emphasize the centrality of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, including the elimination of violence against women to the overall goal of securing maternal and child health and the reduction of maternal mortality,” said Ms. Florence Butegwa, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia and Representative to the AU and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The African Union recognizes that maternal and newborn child health is central to social, human and economic development on the continent. Despite several efforts and significant progress among the member states, the current rate of progress is not enough if Africa is to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

“We propose the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa to include maternal death audits and the involvement of male and youths,” said Dr. Jeff Kambale Mathe, Maternal and Newborn Child Health Expert, in his recommendations for outcomes of the meeting.

Experts touched on a number of other key recommendations, which included replicating success factors from lessons learned; involving civil society organizations more closely to combat maternal and newborn child deaths through their advocacy and accountability efforts; and building on multisector, private sector and media partnerships.

“I am positive that in 10 years from now, we [will] have another situation in Africa,” said Dr. Kambale Mathe after the meeting. “People are increasingly aware of the importance of efforts to improve maternal and newborn child health, but we will only move forward if we have a strong monitoring and evaluation framework.”