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S Asia shows constant decline in maternal, newborn deaths amid global stagnation: UNICEF official

The decline in maternal mortality in South Asia since 2016 has been driven by good performance in countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan & Pak

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CAPE TOWN, May 11 (PTI): Maternal and newborn deaths have seen a persistent decline in South Asia amidst their stagnation globally and even an increase in some regions of Latin America in the last five years, a top UNICEF official has said.

The decline in maternal mortality in South Asia since 2016 has been driven by good performance in countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr Gagan Gupta, Senior Advisor, Maternal and Newborn Health at UNICEF said here on Wednesday.

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He, however, said the progress on reduction in neonatal mortality needed a greater push in the region.

“India has been one of the exemplar countries with a rapid rise in institutional deliveries, rapid scale-up of newborn care units and several policy changes to improve access of mothers and newborns to quality health services,” he told PTI.

Gupta has been addressing various sessions at the ongoing ‘International Maternal Newborn Health Conference’ (IMNHC 2023) here.

The four-day conference hosted by the South African government and AlignMNH, a global initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began here on May 8.

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Bangladesh has shown a 42 per cent decline in maternal mortality between 2016 -2020.

India also showed a 20 per cent decline in maternal mortality ratio (MMR) during the same period which is especially significant given the stagnation in global progress, Gupta noted.

Many of the learnings from India and Bangladesh are relevant for other countries in the region and also for sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of these learnings were shared at the IMNHC being held here.

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To further accelerate progress in the region, there is a need to now focus on districts which are poorly performing and prioritise the pockets of home deliveries and communities which are not able to access healthcare, he said.

“Local action will be critical if countries and regions have to meet the SDGs for maternal and newborn health,” Gupta said.

He stressed the urgency to increase investments in maternal and newborn health as the joint ENAP/EPMM progress report by the WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA has shown that 12 per cent of countries have a fully financed maternal and newborn health plan.

These countries include India, Bangladesh and Bhutan from the region.

“The allocations for maternal and newborn health have further declined after Covid-19 with 40 per cent of countries reporting a decrease in allocations for maternal and newborn health programmes after the pandemic,” Gupta said.

The average annual rate of reduction in maternal mortality in South Asia from 2016-2022 was 4.4 per cent per year while it remained stagnated globally during the same period.

The SDG targets envisage reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100, 000 live births and an end to preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1000 live birth by 2030.

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