Maternal and Newborn Health News from the 68th World Health Assembly

The 68th World Health Assembly features the launch of two important reports – The WHO report on Strategies Toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality [PDF] and the Every Newborn Action Plan Progress Report [PDF].

Maternal health remains one of the most elusive Millennium Development Goal to achieve. While maternal deaths worldwide have been nearly halved since 1990, there is still a long way to go to ensure that more women’s lives are saved during childbirth. Currently 800 women lose their lives during childbirth due to largely preventable reasons. According to the new report, Strategies Towards Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality, by 2030 the maternal mortality ratio should be no larger than 70 deaths/100,000 live births and no country should have a MMR of 140 deaths/100,000 live births.

How can this be achieved?

The new report calls for more wellness-focused healthcare as opposed to emergency-focused care for expectant mothers despite available resources. Most importantly, the post 2015 maternal health framework is rooted in human rights for women and girls. In order to save more women’s lives, there needs to be a cross-sectional system of integrated care. According to the report, more women, girls, and communities need to be empowered to recognize gender equality and empowerment. Mothers and newborns must have integrated care as opposed to caring for both independently.

Statistically, more data and measurements need to be assessed in order to provide better maternal health care. Based on data, then, changes on the local and country level can then be reassessed and modified in order to save more lives during childbirth.

The Strategies Toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality is a comprehensive report that lays out a doable framework to decrease the large number of maternal health deaths by 2030 through a right-based approach to care. Additionally, the report believes that no woman should go broke giving birth and should be afforded quality maternal health care despite her ability to pay or lot in life.

Every Newborn Action Plan Progress Report

Last year the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) was endorsed by the 67th World Health Assembly. This year a progress report [PDF] of the latest news will be presented to this year’s World Health Assembly.

In the report, we see new ENAP commitments – 50 in all – to improve newborn health as well as modified newborn health plans that are being improved in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya that already have plans in place. Countries including Ghana, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have finalized their newborn action plans. In fact, 15 of the most high-burden countries have taken concrete action to advance newborn health since the passage of the ENAP. These finalizations and improvements are critical to the lives of newborns. 7700 newborns die every day. Eighty percent of those deaths are due to preventable causes.

One of the more important aspects of the ENAP and progress report is that there is a commitment to counting stillbirths. If still births are not counted, global health experts cannot glean a full picture of the newborn mortality crisis. Additionally there is a global call that every newborn receive a birth certificate to count them because they matter. Based on the number of stillbirths, 5.5 million newborns die without being counted.


Yesterday, misoprostol was added to the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. Misoprostol is critical to saving mothers from hemorrhaging to death postpartum.

There is one problem with misoprostol, however. The drug can also be used for abortions and therefore is illegal in some countries where abortions are illegal. Oftentimes, misoprostol can be found on the black market.

What is important about misoprostol is it does not need to be refrigerated like oxytocin in order to curb hemorrhaging.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

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