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May 04, 2010

Women on the Frontlines of Healthcare, published by Save the Children in commemoration of Mother’s Day focuses on the critical shortage of health workers in the developing world and the urgent need for better access to health services, and investments in health workers training.

Women on the Frontlines of Healthcare

Publisher: Save the Children , 2010

Every year, 50 million women in the developing world give birth with no professional help and 8.8 million children and newborns die from easily preventable or treatable causes. This report identifies countries that have invested in training and deploying more female health workers and shows how these women are delivering lifesaving health care to some of the poorest and hardest-to-reach mothers and babies.


It identifies strategies and approaches that are succeeding in the fight to save lives, and shows that effective solutions to this challenge are affordable – even in the world’s poorest countries.

The most dangerous time in a child’s life is during birth and shortly thereafter. Newborn babies – those in their first four weeks of life – account for over 40% of deaths among children under age 5. Childbirth is also a very risky time for mothers in the developing world, around 50 million of whom give birth each year at home with no professional help whatsoever.

Most of these deaths occur in areas of the developing world where basic health care is often unavailable, too far away, or of very low quality. And most of these deaths could be prevented if skilled and well-equipped health care workers were available to serve the poorest, most marginalized mothers and children.

It is estimated that 74% of mothers’ lives could be saved if all women had access to a skilled health worker at delivery and emergency obstetrics care for complications and 63% of children under 5 could also be saved if all children were to receive a full package of essential health care that includes skilled birth attendance, immunizations and treatments for pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. That’s about 250,000 women and 5.5 million children whose lives could be saved each year.

Female health workers have an especially critical role to play in saving the lives of women, newborns and young children. Evidence from many developing countries indicates that investments in building a strong female health workforce can make the difference between success and failure in the fight to save lives.

Developing countries have too few health care workers to take on the life or death challenges facing mothers, their babies and young children. Worldwide, there are 57 countries with critical health workforce shortages, meaning that they have fewer than 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. Thirty-six of the countries with critical health worker shortages are in sub-Saharan Africa, which has 12% of the world’s population, 25% of the global burden of disease, and only 3% of the world’s health workers.

South and East Asia have 29 % of the disease burden and only 12% of the health workers. In contrast, the Americas region – which includes Canada and the United States – represents only 9% of the global burden of disease, yet almost 37% of the world’s health workers live in this region, which spends more than 50% of the world’s financial resources devoted to health.

If we want to solve the interconnected problems of maternal and newborn mortality, we must do a better job of reaching these mothers and babies with skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the minutes, days and weeks following birth. For a variety of reasons, in many parts of the world, pregnant women and young children will not receive lifesaving health care unless there is a female health worker nearby to provide it.

This year’s State of the World’s Mothers report examines the many ways women working on the front lines of health care are helping to save the lives of mothers, newborns and young children. It shows how investments in training and deploying female health workers have paid off in term of lives saved and illnesses averted, and it points to low-cost, low-tech solutions that could save millions more lives, if only they were more widely available and used.

This year’s report therefore looks at how female health workers in developing countries are helping to save the lives of mothers, newborns and young children. It highlights women-to-women approaches that are working to bring essential health care to the hard-to-reach places where most deaths occur. It also shows how millions more lives each year can be saved if governments invest in these proven solutions.

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