The report showed that over 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or the first weeks after birth (equivalent to 1 death happening every 7 seconds), mostly from preventable or treatable causes if proper care was available.
Overall, the report found that progress in improving survival has stagnated since 2015, with about 290,000 maternal deaths annually, 1.9 million stillbirths (babies dying after 28 weeks of pregnancy) and a staggering 2.3 million newborn deaths in the first month of life.
The Covid-19 pandemic, rising poverty, and worsening humanitarian crises have intensified pressures on stretched health systems.
Since 2018, more than three-quarters of all conflict-affected and Sub-Saharan African nations report decline funding for maternal and newborn health.
Just 1 in 10 countries (of over 100 surveyed) report having sufficient funds to implement their current plans.
“As is too often the case, vulnerability, fear, and loss are not spread equally around the world,” said Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Director of Health (a.i.). “Since the Covid-19 pandemic, babies, children and women who were already exposed to threats to their well-being, especially those living in fragile countries and emergencies, are facing the heaviest consequences of decreased spending and efforts on providing quality and accessible healthcare.” To increase survival rates, women and babies must have quality, affordable healthcare before, during and after childbirth, the agencies say, as well as access to family planning services. More skilled and motivated health workers, especially midwives, are needed, alongside essential medicines and supplies, safe water, and reliable electricity.
Improving maternal and newborn health further requires addressing harmful gender norms, biases and inequalities. Recent data show that only about 60% of women aged 15-49 years make their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The new report was launched at a major global conference held in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference aims to accelerate recovery and progress in maternal and newborn health, promoting targeted investments in primary healthcare as well as innovation and bolder partnerships across programmes that help countries improve survival.
Based on current trends, more than 60 countries are not set to meet the maternal, newborn and stillborn mortality reduction targets in the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.