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Addressing maternal mortality has a positive impact on countries’ human capital

Dakar, Senegal - The maternal mortality and morbidity have a negative impact on human capital and by extension on the development of countries. Conversely, they can be avoided in most cases. A good health programme, especially on reproductive health, has a return on investment for the family, the community, said Benoit Kalasa. 

Mr. Kalasa, UNFPA West Africa and Central Regional Director was addressing on 27th March a joint press conference of UN agencies involved in maternal, newborn and child health in the Muskoka French Fund. There are the WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UNWomen. This press conference followed the Muskoka Fund steering committee meeting held from 24th to 28thMarch in Dakar.

Kalasa deplored the fact that West and Central Africa bears the greatest burden of maternal mortality (33 per cent) and child mortality (30 percent) in the world while the region accounts for only 6 per cent of the world population. He also indicated that morbidity is the result of failures in the response and the non- respect of the rights to life and dignity.

The infant mortality rate declined by 39 percent in West and Central Africa during the last twenty years, but the reduction of maternal and infant mortality indicators remains, however, the slowest in the world.

"Despite recent progress, maternal, newborn and child mortality in West Africa and Central Africa remain a concern," Mr. Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed at the Steering Committee meeting.

The French Muskoka Fund was created following the G8 Summit in Muskoka in 2010. It aims to reduce maternal, newborn and child health and accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 in 10 countries in West and Central Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Chad, Togo) and Haiti. France has invested € 500 million over the 2010-2015 period, 95 million of which are meant to support the joint work of four UN agencies: WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women to strengthen countries’ health systems.

WHO focuses on standards of health, human resources and strengthening of the pharmaceutical system, Dr. Tigest Ketsela Mengistu, representative of the Africa Regional Director of WHO pointed out at the press conference.

UNFPA focuses on maternal health, sexual and reproductive health including youth and family planning as well as the procurement of commodities to give the choice of timing and number of children that each person or a couple wants to have. It is also involved in the quality of care with emergency obstetric and neonatal care (EmOC) surveys to determine the availability of care and audit maternal deaths.

Mr. Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director, said his organization is responsible for child health, nutrition and development. He revealed that each minute 107 children under five die in countries benefiting from Muskoka Fund. He emphasised the synergy of coherent and complementary actions of UN agencies under the said Fund.

According to the Deputy Regional Director of UN Women, Mr. Maxime Houinato, his organization supports health workers in reducing violence in their relationship with women, raise awareness, gender consideration, fight violence against women, particularly in the health facilities and the creation of demand.

Mr. Lebrun-Damiens added that the fund wants the joint work of four UN agencies allow developing joint activities that increase by a tenfold the impact on the health of women and children in the countries.

According to Dr. Nestor Azandégbé, Chairperson of the Technical Committee of the Muskoka French Fund and Maternal Health and Reproductive Health Regional Advisor at UNFPA West and Central Africa Regional Office, " the health of mothers and children must be at the heart of national development policies ... at the current rate, the West and Central Africa Region will not achieve the MDGs 4 and 5 in 2015. So we need, more than ever, to unite our efforts and work tirelessly to improve the health of women and children now and beyond 2015. "

In collaboration with African governments and with the support of Muskoka French Fund, the four agencies will continue to implement effective and known simple solutions that save the lives of mothers and children through the prevention and treatment of child diseases and pregnancy and childbirth complications.