UN Health 4 group ends visit to Ethiopia with proposal for joint Flagship Programme on Maternal and Newborn Health

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 05 January 2010 - Ethiopian health officials, the UN Country Team in Ethiopia and visiting UN Health 4 (H4) partners have developed a comprehensive two-year work plan to support maternal and newborn health (MNH) and survival in the country.

The Health 4 represents an intensified joint effort by four international agencies, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and the World Bank, to support countries in improving maternal and newborn health and saving the lives of mothers and babies.

The 10-day H4 mission to Ethiopia concluded with a meeting in Addis Ababa on 9 December, involving UN agencies, officials from the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), and the Health Population and Nutrition Donor Group. The work plan that was agreed focuses on both immediate and long term interventions. It involves four strategies:

- Increase demand, access and utilization of quality MNH services

- Improve the quality of MNH services

- Strengthen monitoring and evaluation of MNH services

- Improve managerial and institutional capacity, advocacy and partnerships in order to encourage increased political and financial commitment

"We are going to submit the proposal for the joint UN Flagship Program on maternal and newborn health to the potential funders," said Dr. Razia Pendse of the WHO Partnership Department of Making Pregnancy Safer.

Improving newborns' prospects for survival

About 50 per cent of all maternal deaths annually occur in sub-Saharan Africa, as do deaths among children under five. Since 1990, the number of estimated annual global maternal deaths has remained around 500,000, while the absolute number of child deaths in 2008 declined to an estimated 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDG 5 target is to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio, while the MDG 4 target is to reduce by two thirds the under-five mortality rate.

However as the overall under-five mortality rate has fallen since 1990, neonatal deaths have not dropped as dramatically, and therefore constitute a much higher proportion of overall under-five deaths - thus there needs to be a greater emphasis on improving the health of newborns. There is a demonstrated link between a mother's health and the health and welfare of her children, particularly newborns. Lowering a mother's risk of mortality directly improves her baby's prospects for survival.

According to the most recent estimates, Ethiopia has a lifetime maternal mortality risk of 1 in 27 and an under-5 mortality risk of more than 1 in 10.