Zack Gross
Zack Gross

Writer / Facilitator / CoordinatorHomeResumeProjectsArticlesLinksContact

Concerns About the State of the World's Children

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  February 8 / 09

Zack Gross

UNICEF has just published its annual State of the World’s Children report, a sad tale of premature mortality (death) and morbidity (sickness) in many developing countries, and of broken promises by wealthy nations to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015. 

In adult populations in the Global South, one can expect to live only to the age of fifty, on average.  This means that I would already be dead for pretty much a decade!  Here, we live about thirty years longer. 

One of the statistical factors bringing down the overseas average is the “health deficit” in maternal and newborn health.  “Women in the world’s least developed countries are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in developed countries,” says the report.  As well, a child born in a developing country is fourteen times more likely to die during the first month of life than a child born in a developed one.

One woman dies in childbirth every minute in our world, says the CEO of a major medical aid agency.  That adds up to half a million deaths per year.  In 2000, when the UN MDGs were agreed to by world leaders, the goal was to reduce these deaths by one-third, but the process is sadly behind. 

Half the women who die in childbirth come from less than fifty fragile countries that are too poor, too much in conflict, or too corrupt to support the welfare of their people.  Funding from Western countries is often short-term, for disaster relief rather than focusing on long-term development, or geopolitically motivated (huge amounts of money going to Afghanistan at this time).

The Central African Republic, which has endured over a decade of conflict, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates.  There is only one midwife per 55,000 people, health care centres are in poor shape, pharmaceuticals are in short supply and staff are often unpaid for months at a time.  To get to a health centre, one must be transported, or must walk, for many miles.  In my own experience, in rural Uganda, I saw people carrying mattresses, food and other items with them to hospital. What we take for granted here is not available there. 

Currently in Niger, West Africa, a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is one in seven!  A number of other countries in that region, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Chad, are in the same range. 

It is estimated that worldwide, for everyone woman who dies in childbirth or pregnancy, twenty others suffer illness or injury, often with long-term consequences. 

In India, with a booming economy growing at 9% per year each over the past three years, maternal and child mortality has dropped by 17% over the past decade, half of what the MDGs call for.  Clearly, the poor of India are not being sufficiently impacted by their country’s good fortunes.  Two-thirds of Indian women deliver their babies at home, most without the support of trained personnel. 

Young women, still in their mid-teens in many developing countries, are commonly married and/or sexually active and at great risk when they become pregnant.  They know little about their condition and possible complications, are not mature enough to cope with complex situations of family, poverty and health care, and are often victims of quack doctors or extortive health care workers (who themselves may be victims of low or no pay, and few resources).  There are about 70,000 recorded deaths of young women aged 15 to 19 in childbirth or during pregnancy per year around the world – 10 million women in total in the past two decades.

UNICEF suggests in its report that piecemeal solutions are not the answer, but rather that wealthy nations must work with national governments in the developing world to build and fund effective primary health care systems that embrace the maternal experience, as well as the newborn and the growing child.  Education, protection and empowerment of women are also important to saving mothers’ and children’s lives.  Finally, training of many more health care workers at all levels – community-based, outreach and in medical facilities – is needed.

International Development Week is marked each year in Canada in early February.  UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report reminds us that there is much to be done at the most basic human level to ensure the health and welfare of our precious resources – mothers and children. 

Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
* * * * *

Return to Articles page