20 May 2011

Why will most of sub-Saharan Africa not achieve the Millenium Development Goals?

With globalisation and the spread of human mobility, health concerns of developed and less developed countries have become interdependent. Just as SARS brought Hong Kong to its knees in 2003, what impact has failing maternal health on our future?

In 2006, WHO reported a global deficit of 2.3m doctors, nurses and midwifes. Critical health workforce shortages exist in 27 sub-Saharan countries. This, coupled with a lack of functioning health systems; inadequate infrastructure and insufficient health financing will prove too much for the MDGs to succeed in 4 years time.

In global maternal health, it is sobering that every minute daily a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. The majority of deaths are a result of obstructed labour, sepsis or severe bleeding. Other causes impeding women’s ability to have safe motherhood include poverty, gender inequality, illiteracy, nutritional taboos and practises such as FGM and forced marriage.

As another Mother’s Day passed us by, for many women globally having a baby is a life-threatening DIY project. 48m women annually give birth without expert help, according to Save the Children’s Missing Midwife Report – leading to 1-2000 babies dying daily. In Ethiopia, 94% have no assistance – due to the 250,00 global shortages of midwives and in Somalia 52% of new born babies die.

In the face of such sobering issues, in the UK ‘Smartphones and Apps’ have been added to the ‘basket of goods/services’ used to calculate inflation. Yet it is technological gadgets such as these (less so the new items of ‘sparkling wines’ and ‘internet dating’!) that could help provide increased knowledge to health development attendants in countries on maternal health and childbirth good practice.

A final aspect that could help countries deliver on better healthcare would be a great engagement of charities with voluntary Britain – Big Society or not! With the current cuts, corporate social responsibilities may be less popular than ten years ago without US style tax breaks.

As I choose to help end FGM, there is pressure to become another charity in a sector that has few players yet true partnership is as yet untested. Can Africa and developing countries understand each other enough to address global inequalities? Can FGM truly end after 2000 years in three generations (45 years) – as footbinding did after 1000 years in 16 years? If so, I might just see it!