women's health in AfricaWomen’s health is of great importance to social and economic development in Africa. Representing over 50 percent of the country’s human resources, women’s health in Africa has major implications for the nation’s development. Overwhelming evidence shows that by supporting women’s health status and income levels, both households and communities are drastically improved. Therefore, women’s disempowerment must be regarded as a human rights issue. These are a few facts about women’s health in Africa today.

Maternal Deaths Are Still High

Although woman’s life expectancy at birth in more than 35 countries around the world is upwards of 80 years, in the African region, it is only 54 years, according to recent World Health Organization statistics. Sixty-six percent of maternal deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. One in 42 African women still dies during childbirth, as opposed to one in 2,900 in Europe.

Teenage Pregnancy Education

Due to the lack of education and healthcare, teenage mothers experience many complications and premature deaths since their young bodies are still developing and not ready for the physical and emotional trauma of childbirth. Because of this, according to the Center for Global Health and Diplomacy, teenage pregnancy needs to be at the top of the education agenda in Africa among young girls if they are going to be empowered to take control of their bodies, their futures and their health.

Improving Infrastructure Can Save Women’s Lives

Several of the major issues affecting women’s health in Africa are associated with poor living conditions. As the main gatherers of food for their households, women are exposed to particular health risks. There is ample evidence that improving infrastructure such as access to roads and providing safe and accessible water sources can considerably improve women’s health and economic well-being.

HIV Affects More Women than Men

In 2015, 20 percent of new HIV infections among adults were among women aged 15 to 24, despite this group only accounting for 11 percent of the global adult population, according to “In East and Southern Africa, young women will acquire HIV five to seven years earlier than their male peers. In 2015, there were on average 4,500 new HIV infections among young women every week, double the number of young men.”  In west and central Africa, 64 percent of new HIV infections among young people occurred among young women. Location has a lot to do with this, as adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys of the same age in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

The Fight for Empowerment

U.N. Women, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, puts great effort into the protection of women’s empowerment in Africa. This organization supports critical policies for social protection for women. Partnerships with national banks are expanding access to finance to make that happen, along with collaborations with regional and U.N. economic commissions. Although women’s health in Africa is in desperate need of reform, there are many organizations like this one fighting to make that possible.

Policy reform designed to improve women’s health in Africa must address the issue of women’s place in African society so that the health of women can be seen as a basic right.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

Reach Every Mother and ChildThe Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 seeks to provide foreign assistance in order to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths globally within a generation.

Every day, approximately 800 women, almost entirely from developing countries, die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. The risk of a woman dying in childbirth is 47 times higher in Africa than in the United States. More than 17,000 children under five years old will die daily from treatable conditions.

Aiding women during pregnancy, childbirth and post delivery, newborns in their first 28 days and children under the age of five is of utmost importance.

Countries that experience the greatest need and highest burden of maternal and child deaths around the world will be primary targets. This strategy focuses on evidence-based interventions, country ownership, monitoring and evaluating programs, transparency and accountability, sustainability and public-private financing mechanisms.

The U.S. government will work with target countries and donors to implement a five-year plan established by the president to achieve the goal of ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths within a generation.

A Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator role will be created to oversee the strategy and ensure all U.S. government funds appropriated are used for international maternal and child health and nutrition programs.

USAID grants, contracts and cooperative agreements designated for the strategy will include targets for increased implementation of high-impact, evidence-based interventions and baseline measurements to quantify progress.

The president will publicly report on the U.S. government’s progress in implementing the strategy annually. Maternal and child health and nutrition initiatives will be detailed in the report along with descriptions of interventions or program designs, reporting on grants, contracts and cooperative agreements awarded and any innovative public-private financing tools that could be used to fund the strategy.

USAID is authorized to grant loans, set aside funds for the implementation of financing tools and make equity investments to carry out provisions of this act.

As of Jan. 29, 2016, the act has received bipartisan support from 37 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the House of Representatives and six Democrats and five Republicans in the Senate.

Summer Jackson

Sources: Borgen Project, Senate, Thomas – Library of Congress
Photo: Art Connect International

Reach Every Mother and Child Act
On the African continent, women are 47 times more likely to die from preventable complications during childbirth than they are in the United States. That amounts to approximately 800 women dying a day in developing nations. Mothers are not the only vulnerable ones. Each day, an estimated 17,000 children under the age of five will also die from treatable conditions.

Delaware’s Senator Chris Coons and Maine’s Senator Susan Collins hope to dramatically shrink and ultimately eliminate these statistics. In July 2015, the senators introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 in order to increase the amount of U.S. aid being directed toward ending these tragic and preventable deaths. The bill establishes a framework to implement the existing tools and focus necessary for winning the battle against preventable mother and child deaths.

The bill calls for a strategic and attainable 10-year plan to succeed in ending preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2035. This includes the creation of a permanent Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who will be responsible for implementing the 10-year plan and to confirm that resources and interventions are being effectively utilized in target nations.

The U.S. government will also create a financing framework that will allow the use of U.S. funds to leverage additional funds from nongovernmental organizations, partner countries and international organizations.

While introducing the bill in their floor speeches, Senators Coons and Collins both stressed that the Reach Every Mother and Child Act is not a bolt-from-the-blue or a handout.

“Investing in maternal and child health in developing countries is an investment in the future, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to help all mothers and children around the globe get the health care they deserve,” said Senator Coons.

Acting USAID Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt echoed Coons’ sentiment. “As children survive and thrive, parents are choosing to have smaller families,” said Lenhardt, “unleashing a virtuous cycle of progress and prosperity.”

USAID recently released a new report showing that previous efforts to improve the survival rates of mothers, newborns and children under the age of five have already saved 2.5 million children and 200,000 mothers since 2008. This demonstrates substantial evidence that the new act will be successful.

“There are simple, proven and cost-effective interventions that we know will work if we can reach the mothers and children who need them to survive,” said Senator Collins. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act, if passed, is anticipated to improve the health of millions of impoverished and at-risk mothers and children.

World Vision’s Director of Government Relations Lisa Bos is particularly excited about the bill, praising Senators Collins and Coons for championing the bill. “The goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths is achievable, but it will take renewed commitment, coordination and resources,” said Bos. “This bill builds on the progress we’ve made and is critical for ensuring we reach every mother and child. We hope every Member of the Senate will support this legislation.”

Claire Colby

Sources: Senate, USAID, World Vision