Maternal Health Matters

Of all of the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health, has seen the least progress. Globally, over half a million women die every year during pregnancy or childbirth, and 90 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries.(1) The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that the global annual rate of reduction in maternal deaths is roughly 1.3 percent per year, an increase from the 1990-2005 rate of 0.4 percent. This falls far short of the 5.5 percent annual reduction necessary to achieve the global target. (2) The World Youth Alliance joins the international community in recognizing the centrality of maternal health to sustainable development.

The World Youth Alliance recognizes that all persons, women and men, have intrinsic dignity. We recognize that all persons are equal in dignity regardless of sex, race, culture or creed and this equality demands equal participation in the development process, especially access to healthcare. We recognize the unique gifts and challenges of women which require a unique, women’s-centered approach to healthcare and education. It is misguided to expect that simply giving women more access to male-centered health information and care will lead to marked advances in women’s health. The dignity of women demands that they be accorded access to health care that not only treats symptoms, but educates and empowers them to be the drivers of their own futures. A knowledge-based health care system empowers women, particularly by ensuring adequate fertility literacy, which enables women to better understand and access basic health care.

While there is a general and admirable commitment of the international community to provide basic health care to women and promote maternal heath, there exists a regrettable lack of education and information for both women and men on the topic of women’s health. This ignorance often leads women to make uninformed health decisions especially relating to pregnancy, birth and postpartum care. For men, the absence of education results in a deficiency of understanding and consequent lack of respect for women and their health.

Maternal health requires a multi-dimensional development solution. Access to basic health care is an obvious and essential component and this care must be women-centered. The education and empowerment of women regarding knowledge of their health and fertility is also critical. It is universally recognized that education empowers women. The World Youth Alliance recognizes that a knowledge-based approach to women’s health care is critical to women’s empowerment. Person-centered policies which incorporate both women’s access to health care and a knowledge-based approach to their reproductive health will ultimately be the most effective means to achieve MDG 5 and lead to authentic and sustained development.

(1) UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women, MDGs & Gender, 2011

(2) World Health Organization (WHO), Millennium Development Goals: progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals, May, 2010

WYA Declaration on Maternal Health

March 2010 ·

New York, USA

We are a global coalition of young people reflecting diverse ethnic, cultural, economic, political and social backgrounds from all regions of the world. We have observed with concern the lack of progress made on MDG 5, Improving Maternal Health, which is currently the least achieved MDG. Maternal morbidity and mortality are largely preventable and must be addressed by person–centered health policies that focus on the needs of women in the context of maternal health.

As mothers, women develop society in a particular way through the transmission of life. Ensuring the health of the mother and child during pregnancy and at the moment of delivery is central to the development of society. Women’s education and access to health care are key indicators of social progress. High maternal death rates are indicative of social and medical failure, and each death has a devastating impact on the family, the community, and economic and social development.

Preventable complications or disabilities arising from delivery—such as obstetric fistula—can also result in long-term suffering for the mother and community. Death and disabilities arising from pregnancy and child birth often lead to decreased quality of nutrition and education for children, and lack of security and stability for the family because of the important connection between healthy mothers and healthy children. The tragedy of maternal mortality or morbidity has disastrous consequences for women, children and families.

The causes of maternal mortality and morbidity are limited: hemorrhage, infection, obstructed labor and hypertensive disorders. These causes can be significantly addressed through investment in skilled birth attendants, and provision of health education for women and families. Improved access to basic health care, nutrition, medicines and technology are the additional means by which maternal mortality and morbidity can be reduced and eliminated. These services can be provided in cost-effective ways, and delivery systems to reach rural and marginalized communities can and should be prioritized. A knowledge-based health care system empowers women, particularly by ensuring adequate fertility literacy, which enables women to understand and access basic health care.

It is imperative to mobilize resources and strengthen political will to promote maternal health. Essential programs to ensure healthcare for mothers must be given priority in the development and funding of local, national and international health initiatives. Maternal health concerns all individuals since it is necessary for the development of healthy and prosperous societies. We call upon the international community to prioritize maternal health in its efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, as agreed in the Millennium Declaration. We commit ourselves, in solidarity with governments, international institutions and civil society, to achieving the goals outlined in this Declaration, to promoting maternal health as a necessary component of fostering authentic development, and to upholding the dignity of all persons.