The 1st International Conference on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Africa got underway Thursday in Johannesburg. Organizers say while much has been done to reduce mortality rates, those rates still remain very high.
The African Union says maternal mortality has fallen by more than 40 percent since 1990, while child mortality is down by 33 percent. Nevertheless, it says 57-percent of global maternal deaths occur in Africa, as do half of the global deaths of children under age five. What’s more, the AU says Africa accounts for most of the child deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as many from pneumonia and diarrhea.
The AU says the causes of these deaths are preventable, making the theme of the three day conference A Call to Action.
The U.N. Population Fund has announced a new initiative to increase reproductive health services for 45-million adolescent girls. Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin spoke about the initiative from Johannesburg.
“Seventy percent of Africa is less than 30 years old. So, we need to ensure that every life and every young person has access to all that their health and education requires to enable them to reach their full potential.”
It’s estimated that by 2030, almost 25-percent of adolescent girls will live in Africa. The population fund says every year more than seven million girls under age 18 give birth.
“We find that in each of the African countries we work in — 46 of them – adolescent pregnancy is very high and adolescent mortality from unsafe abortion is also very high,” he said.
Dr. Osotimehin said that family planning is a big part of the U.N. Population Fund’s strategy.
“In the context of trying to save the lives of mothers, who die giving birth, family planning is a very important intervention. Family planning saves 30 percent of mothers’ lives. When they have family planning they make choices. They have fewer children.”
Africa’s future, he said, will depend very much on educating the younger generations.
“Education is the best intervention you can give in any country, especially girls’ education. Now we know that with girls’ education maternal mortality goes down. Child mortality goes down. Education beyond 18 actually contributes to economic development,” he said.
He said that educated and healthy girls are more likely to delay having children; have healthier children when they do; and earn higher incomes. He added that the “impact of empowering today’s girls will be felt for generations to come.”