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A reason to celebrate this Mother's Day

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Development Debates, Girls & Women, Health

Mother's Day is usually a joyous occasion — and this year we have even more reason to celebrate. Mothers and their children are surviving today at higher rates than at any other point in history. In fact, just since 1990, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has declined from more than 12 million per year to slightly over 8 million.

Mums everywhere have the same goal for our children: a successful future. Picture: Caroline Irby / DFID

I feel fortunate because I get to see this progress firsthand. On a recent trip to Nairobi, I spoke with a group of women about their children. One mother told me, "I want to bring every good thing to one before I have another." It reinforced what I always hear on my trips to different countries around the globe — that mothers everywhere have the same goal for our children, a successful future.

So, what's behind this success? Over the past decade, innovators around the world have developed new tools and technologies – vaccines, drugs, and bednets to name a few — which have been integral in saving millions of lives.

But the innovation driving this success is not just limited to these stunning breakthroughs in science and technology – it can be creative without being high-tech. I'm talking about pioneering ways of changing behaviour, working with communities and sharing these new ideas with women in the poorest areas of the world.

Take breastfeeding, for example. Simply put, breastfeeding is a life-saving act. We know exclusive breastfeeding – when the newborn is fed only with breast milk and nothing else in the first six months – is one of the best ways to save baby's lives.

My visit to the maternity waiting room at the Dowa District Hospital, Malawi. © Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

When I was in Dowa, Malawi last year I visited the District Hospital. Exclusive breastfeeding is a core project of the government, one supported by Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives programme. The initiative encourages women to give birth in a health clinic and then provides them with three home visits from healthcare workers, in the weeks following the birth. These visits help mothers learn about how to care for their children, including exclusively breastfeeding. Programmes like these aren't created in a laboratory, yet help mothers realise they can significantly improve the health of their newborns without any new technologies.

The British government and citizens have been true leaders around these types of health innovations for women and children. I had the pleasure of meeting with Andrew Mitchell recently and was impressed with his remarkable passion. I've met with a lot of ministers over the years, but I don't often see the dedication like that of Minister Mitchell. It's also truly amazing to see the way Britain has stood by its international commitments on foreign aid in the midst of the current global financial crisis.

Investing in the health of women and children is the right thing to do. If we keep innovating, we'll make faster and faster progress and achieve more with our investments. We'll save the lives of mothers and their children in even greater numbers. And we'll help make sure that motherhood is always a joy, for every mother, everywhere.

I can't imagine a better way to celebrate Mother's Day.

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  1. Comment by Senfuka Samuel posted on

    Interesting's every one's responsibility to promote safe motherhood.

  2. Comment by Ian Anderson posted on

    Investing in educating women is definitely the way to go in my humble opinion. Working in Uganda, if you wanted something done you would approach the very active womens groups first! Seeing babies die from dehydration for the lack of a few basic instructions to dispel local myths, taught me that targeting the women with low tech advice works.

    Keep up the good work Melinda!
    Stay well

    p.s. I also met Andrew Mitchel several times as we set up the first Project Umubano in Rwanda. I thought then that he would bring some much needed passion and expertise to the role, once in power.

  3. Comment by Jenna Houston posted on

    I wish the intention of the gates Foundation to improve maternal heath went directly to training more midwives. Midwives for Midwives created a successful model for training traditional midwives.....and appealed to Gates Foundation for support.....and was passsed over. Check out the good work we did traininbg midwives in low tech midwifery model......we need more well trained midwives on the planet, NOT more technology or more medical model. Return birth to it's sacred state and make ot safe as well as humain. Learn the essential difference between midwifery and medical models.

  4. Comment by Senfuka Samuel posted on

    @Jenna, yeah it is true we need to train more midwives but in a case like Uganda we have a gap of 2000 midwives and the issue is not necessarily that midwives are non existent but our government says they cannot recruit because there ere no funds to meet their enumerations hence a ban policy on recruitment!!!!!

    This calls to increasing funding to the health sector to meet critical needs for maternal and newborn health.

  5. Comment by Ian Anderson posted on

    It is even more complicated than that.

    Our project was training midwives, but once qualified they did not want to go back and live in 'rural' villages. They moved to the big towns where they could earn more.

    We ended up spending a significant part of the health clinic budget on building new staff houses to tempt staff to live at the rural clinics.

    (We were on a £9.6 million project, three quarters of which went in training and capacity building, we had the other quarter for building the 83 clinics).

    I wonder if a more general awareness of practices likely to cause problems is the way to go. Giving info to womens groups and let it spread that way. But heck, I am just the builder, it's way out of my area lol!