1 Jul 2014

Section from Bob McMullan’s speech on the Millennium Development Goals 27/8/08




Maternal health

The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd discussed the issue of maternal mortality at his meeting with Gordon Brown in the UK of April this year. Following this meeting he said:

‘There is something like half a million deaths each year, I am advised, from women in childbirth and this is simply an obscene number which we the community of nations should do something about.

“Within this international health partnership we propose to partner with the UK in making sure that this becomes a key achievable area of progress against the Millennium Development Goals.’

Every year some eight million women suffer pregnancy-related complications and over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – 99 per cent of them in developing countries.

The Asia-Pacific region’s overall maternal mortality ration is over 300 per 100,000 live births:

  • Maternal deaths in Asia and the Pacific account for almost half of the global total.
  • There are no indications that the ratio is coming down significantly. Two-thirds of countries in the region are clearly “off track” in meeting the MDG 5 target.
  • In our region, maternal mortality is especially high in Laos, Cambodia, PNG, Timor Leste and Indonesia.

The World Health Organization has stated “it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of maternal deaths could be prevented or avoided through actions that are proven to be effective and affordable, even in resource-poor countries”.

More than 50 per cent of women in the world’s poorest regions deliver their babies without the help of a skilled birth attendant.

Almost two-thirds of the 8 million infant deaths that occur each year are due primarily to poor maternal health and hygiene and deficiencies in maternal and newborn health services. This includes inefficient management of delivery services and lack of essential care of the newborn.

As with maternal mortality, the vast majority of stillbirths and deaths to newborns and infants are preventable.

Following on from his London commitment, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced a $49 million maternal and neonatal health program for women in Indonesia’s poorest areas.

  • This is designed to increase by 33 per cent access to trained midwives and attendants during pregnancy and childbirth and improve the management of maternal health services.
  • The aim is to significantly reduce the number of women who die needlessly during pregnancy and childbirth by ensuring that in target areas 75 per cent of women and newborns with complications receive appropriate care.
  • And we will continue supporting the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia.
  • While not in our geographic region, Australia is a long-term supporter of the hospital and its founder, the Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin.
  • Because of her work and the contribution made by donors, the health of thousands of girls and women has been restored.
  • Not only that, instead of being shunned or deserted in their villages these women and girls have a much better chance of living a normal life.
  • I met Catherine Hamlin earlier this year and she told me of her plans to build a new training facility for midwives. We are looking at ways in which we might be able to assist in this task.

Catherine Hamlin supported the view of the WHO that maternal deaths would be significantly reduced by increasing the availability of trained birth attendants.