Maternal and Child Health Definitions

Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and post partum. Neonatal or newborn health refers to the health of infants in their first six months of life child health in this context usually refers to young children in their first six years of life.

Maternal mortality

In the developing world pregnancy and childbirth can often cause severe complications including hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortions, high blood pressure and obstructed labor. Unfortunately, if untreated maternal complications can lead to death. Every day approximately 800 women die from preventable conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth with 99% of these deaths occurring in the developing world; while this figure is still far too high, maternal mortality has decreased by 50% between 1990 and 2010. In 2010 287,000 women died in pregnancy or childbirth. Eighty percent of deaths are caused by infection or bleeding after childbirth, high blood pressure during pregnancy, or unsafe abortions.

Which Mothers are at Risk?

Adolescents and young women are at a greater risk than older women. The risk of pregnancy increases greatly if the girl is under 15; complications related to childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in the developing world.  Poor women, rural women, and women with low access to healthcare are the most at risk. Maternal mortality is strongly related to poverty and is a major health inequity. About half of all maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and one-third occur in South Asia. In the developing world, the probability that a woman will die from causes related to pregnancy is 1 in 150; in the developed world it is 1 in 3800.

Infant Mortality

Each year 2.3 million babies are stillborn and 2.9 million die in their first year of life; the vast majority of these infants are born in developing countries. Deaths are caused by preterm birth, infections such as sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis and asphyxia during birth (when the baby does not get enough oxygen).

How Can Mothers be Saved?

These conditions are highly preventable and many of these deaths could be prevented if women had access to good and reliable healthcare. Women in poor countries lack access to trained health professionals such as midwifes, doctors or nurses, and this is why complications lead to death. There are low cost, effective treatments for mothers and infants but many women do not receive any medical care, or the healthcare providers do not have access to the tools needed to treat the women and children. With improved access to maternal health care in poor countries many women and children could be saved.

The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation is working to bring low cost interventions such as antibiotics, sterile blades to cut umbilical cords, and drugs to treat hemorrhaging in mothers and asphyxia in infants to poor communities around the globe.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: WHO, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, Gates Foundation
Photo: #Y4CARMMA