In Africa, mothers die at disproportionate rates due to complications from childbirth and the absence of proper pre- and post-natal care. Their children, including those that are born seemingly healthy, die prematurely from disease, injury and malnutrition.
Fifty percent of all maternal mortality and early childhood mortality occurs on the continent, despite making up only 10 percent of the world’s total population.
Though maternal and childhood mortality have not failed to capture the attention of the world’s major humanitarian organizations – after all, “reduce child mortality” and “improve maternal health” are two of the U.N.’s eight Millennium Development Goals – children in Sub-Saharan Africa are still eight times more likely than their European counterparts to die before their fifth birthday. This trend is especially alarming considering that the World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2050, over one-third of the world’s children under 5 years old will live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Increased aid to Africa to implement critical maternal and child health measures, such as obstetric health clinics, is crucial for making sure that more mothers in Africa are alive to see their children turn 5. Canada recognized this need, and on May 21, 2014, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Canada’s Minister of Health announced the nation’s plan to improve the health of mothers and children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Officially called “Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa,” Canada’s new program allocates $36 million to be spent over seven years in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania to “better meet the primary health care needs of mothers, newborns and children.”
The $36 million comes in addition to the $2.85 billion Canada has pledged to invest in women and children in developing countries between 2010 and 2015 under their Muskoka Initiative. With just 20 percent of that initiative left to complete in the next year and a half, it is clear that Canada takes its commitment to maternal and child health, a commitment it describes as its top development priority, very seriously.
Globally, maternal and child mortality have decreased steadily over the last two decades. Approximately 17,000 fewer children die per day today than they did in 1990, but even at that rate, too many children will die next year to satisfy Millennium Development Goal number four. The progress made thus far has been disproportionately concentrated in Western countries. Some believe it is time to concentrate our resources, focus and energy in Africa to save mothers and children where they are dying most frequently. Canada is leading the way.
– Elise Riley