.Even as the global economy continues to shake with uncertainty and fear of further turmoil, we cannot afford to turn our backs on the poorest countries of the world, where too many girls and women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and millions face permanent injury and disability. And it frankly does not make economic sense. Women are the backbone of the economy in developing countries. Improving maternal health – Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 – is an investment that brings high returns.
Women are the backbone of the economy in developing countries.
More than 350,000 women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Most are preventable. In fact, 60 per cent of all maternal deaths and 40 per cent of all infant deaths take place in the Commonwealth countries.
Women are economic drivers
The loss of a woman’s life or health is not just a loss to her family, but it is also a loss to the community and the nation as a whole. When women die or are injured from complications of pregnancy or child birth, family income, nutrition, and stability decline; and her children, especially her daughters, may be taken out of school to work or maintain the household. Under-investing in women’s health and well-being comes at high and rising economic cost – including intergenerational cycles of poor health and poverty. Pregnancy-related deaths of women and newborns are estimated to cost the world at least US$15 billion in lost productivity every year (Background Paper for Women Deliver Conference 2007, International Center for Research on Women). Many economists believe that this estimate is still on the low side.
The World Bank calls investing in women ‘smart economics’ because of the multiplier effect in improving other development outcomes, including those of their children. Women drive the economy in developing countries in many ways:
• Women operate most small businesses and farms in developing countries.
• A woman’s income is more likely than a man’s to be spent on food, medicine, education, and other family needs.
• In rural Africa it is women who carry two-thirds of all goods that are transported – not trucks or planes. Women feed most of South-east Asia, providing 90 per cent of the labour for rice cultivation (DFID, Maternal Health Progress Report 2008).
• Women’s unpaid work – farming, managing their homes, caring for children and other tasks – equals about one-third of the world’s GNP (ESCAP Workshop for High Level Policy Makers 2000).
Pregnancy-related deaths of women and newborns were estimated to cost the world at least US$15 billion in lost productivity every year.
We also know that reducing maternal mortality reduces maternal morbidity and increases the ability of women to participate in the labour force, boosting productivity and savings. Improvements in women’s health and conditions of childbirth were the biggest factor in increasing married women’s labour force participation in Europe and the United States in the mid-20th century (Albanesi, S, Olivetti, C. 2009. Gender Roles and Medical Progress).
We cannot wait to act
Although these facts are well known, many believe that the solutions to improving maternal health are expensive and require major investments on many levels, including addressing the woefully inadequate supply of healthcare workers in developing countries. The truth is that it may take decades to have stronger health systems with appropriate infrastructure, particularly in remote areas where facilities need to be built, equipped, and
It is no surprise that most national plans to improve maternal health are often not fully funded, and are not fully implemented, or are delayed.
supplied with drugs; and where staff need to be recruited, trained, supervised and retained. It is no surprise that most national plans to improve maternal health are often not fully funded, and are not fully implemented, or are delayed. In the meantime, women continue to die, and countries lose this incredibly precious and productive resource.........
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