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     Volume 4 Issue 42 | April 16, 2005 |

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Human Rights

"Making Every Mother and Child Count"

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

Every minute, 20 children under the age of five years die. That's 30,000 children a day, 10.6 million children a year, say World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics. The same statistics show that more than 6 million of these children could be saved each year.

Also every minute, a woman dies from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications. Fourteen hundred women a day; more than half a million every year.

Too many mothers and children are suffering and dying every year is one of the messages the World Health Organisation is trying to get through to people. The theme of this year's World Health Day, observed last week (April 7), is healthy mothers and children. The slogan: Make every mother and child count.

According to WHO statistics, around 99 percent of maternal and under-five child deaths occur in low and middle income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. While medical complications cause 70 percent of all maternal deaths, poverty, social exclusion, low levels of education and violence against women are also powerful underlying causes of maternal death and disability. A handful of preventable and treatable conditions like neonatal causes, pneumonia, malaria and measles are responsible for more than 70 percent of all child deaths.

Healthy mothers and children are the real wealth of societies

Message 2: Healthy mothers and children are the real wealth of societies. Ill-health is one of the principal reasons behind poverty, increasing family expenditure and decreasing resources. World Bank statistics have shown that for every dollar invested in child health, seven dollars are returned through reduced spending on social welfare and increased productivity of young people and adults. When a mother is sick or dies, her children, family and society are all adversely affected. Every year, an estimated one million young children die as a result of the death of their mother. The survival and well-being of mothers and children is crucial for the betterment of not only their families but society as a whole.

The third message WHO is trying to get across is that millions of lives could be saved using the knowledge we have today; the challenge is transforming this knowledge into action. And a challenge it is. Despite so much technological advancement, only 61 percent of births around the world, and as few as 34 percent in low income countries, are assisted by a skilled attendant. Only four out of 10 children with pneumonia are treated with antibiotics. While knowledge and tools to reduce suffering and death exist, they don't reach the poorest, i.e., those most in need of them.

High quality delivery is needed to reduce maternal deaths. Along with a small set of preventive and curative interventions, appropriate home care like optimal feeding practices, breastfeeding and key health practices like using insecticide-treated materials to prevent the transmission of malaria could dramatically reduce the number of child deaths, says WHO. Education, particularly that of girls, remains a major factor in enhancing the well-being of families.

And finally, everyone is responsible for making a difference. The global community, governments, NGOs, academic institutions, commercial institutions and the media all have to join forces to, among other things, deliver health education and services, generate resources and sensitise governments.

As individuals, we each also have a role to play. From learning ourselves, to teaching those around us -- from our children to our domestic help -- awareness is key. This is followed by action: practising key health behaviours like eating more and healthier foods during pregnancy, breastfeeding, taking children for vaccinations and using appropriate health services for children.

For every two people who die in traffic accidents around the world, one mother and 20 children die from preventable and treatable causes. These are the tragedies that don't make newspaper headlines every day, the deaths that we rarely hear about. The lives each and every one of us, in our own way, could do something to help save.

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