UN report cites too many preventable maternal, child deaths

Millions of women and children continue to die every year from preventable causes amid declining commitments for funding for programs to improve their health, according to a new UN report.

Mortality rates have dropped since 1990 but mask 'areas of major concern'

Millions of women and children continue to die every year from preventable causes amid declining funding commitments for women's and children's health, according to a new report for the United Nations.

The report, released Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York City, is by a group of experts tasked with advising the UN secretary general on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for maternal and child health.

Nepal reported progress in the battle against maternal mortality, but many other countries are struggling, a new report finds. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press)

The experts focused on 75 countries where an estimated 98 per cent of maternal, newborn and child deaths occur.

They warned of deadly consequences of declining rates of donor commitments and failing to focus resources where the need is greatest, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

While cuts in maternal and child mortality since 1990 have been impressive, they mask "areas of major concern," panel co-chair Richard Horton and his co-authors concluded.

The number of child deaths, mostly in developing countries, has fallen by more than 40 per cent since 1990. But only 28 of the 74 most affected countries are on-track to achieve the UN target, the Global Fund said.

The authors said major preventable causes of death from age one month to five years include:

  • Pneumonia (1.07 million deaths annually).
  • Diarrhea (0.75 million deaths).
  • Malaria (0.56 million deaths).

The report's authors said governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, health professionals, researchers, foundations and the private sector can all play an important role in improving child and maternal health.

They recommend:

  • Strengthening the ties between countries, donors, health professionals, researchers, foundations and the private sector.
  • Establishing a framework to guide investments in women's and children's health.
  • Setting clearer priorities for implementing the Millennium Development Goals in each country.
  • Increasing the evaluation and implementation of technology used to make health decisions.
  • Strengthening human-rights frameworks in participating countries.
  • Improving evaluation and accountability.

Last year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced maternal and child health projects that will share $82 million in funding by 2016. Harper co-chairs the accountability commission for the UN effort.