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Continuing Effort to Reduce Maternal and Child Deaths

Suman, a 25-year-old pregnant woman during a check up at a community health centre in central India. (File)

Four years ago, the United States, Ethiopia and India joined UNICEF to rally the world to save the lives of children under the age of 5.

Four years ago, determined to end preventable child deaths within a generation, the United States, Ethiopia and India joined UNICEF to rally the world behind the Child Survival Call to Action: a sustained, global effort to save the lives of children under the age of 5. The goal was to lower child mortality rates in the hardest-hit countries to 20 deaths per 1,000 live births by the year 2035, and to continue progress in those nations already below that rate.

Out of this grew Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths, a USAID-led initiative that identified 24 high-priority countries which together accounted for 70 percent of all child and maternal deaths, and developed for them results-oriented plans to meet these targets. And as a result, children are surviving at a rate never seen before, while fewer mothers are dying due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Since 2008, USAID’s efforts in the 24 priority countries have helped save the lives of 4.6 million children and 200,000 women.

Last year saw some particularly impressive results. So for example, newborn deaths dropped by 13 percent in target facilities in India. 95 percent of Tanzania’s previously unprotected children living in areas where immunization rates have been lowest, have been vaccinated. And for the first time ever, all of the Democratic Republic of the Congo received malaria program coverage.

And we are hoping to do even better. USAID’s drive to end preventable child and maternal deaths focuses on the poorest 40 percent of the population in priority countries, in hopes of saving the lives of 8 million mothers and children from this segment of the population by 2020. And the program will expand to another priority country—Burma.

“We’ve taken a challenge that was once too big to tackle and turned it into a solvable problem,” said USAID Administrator Gayle Smith.“We can measure our progress against achievable targets. We can apply interventions where the evidence tells us they will have the greatest impact. We’re building momentum that I’m confident will carry us over the finish line, a world where preventable maternal and child deaths are actually prevented.”