South-South Cooperation Offers an Opportunity to Tackle Africa's High Rates of Maternal and Newborn Mortality

Delegates from African countries, the African Union and China call for increased investment in maternal, newborn and child health in Africa

17 August 2018
Delegate speaks at the thematic session on China-Africa Cooperation in Maternal and Newborn Health of the 2018 High-Level Meeting on China-Africa Health Cooperation held in Beijing on 17 August, 2018.
UNICEF/China/2018/Zhang Yuwei

Beijing, 17 August 2018 – Delegates from African countries, the African Union and China joined in a collective call to make ending preventable newborn deaths a reality through strengthened South-South Cooperation that would increase investment and place a priority on saving the lives of children and their mothers. 

At a thematic session of the High-Level Meeting on China-Africa Health Cooperation held today, delegates said that South-South Cooperation offers an unprecedented opportunity to improve maternal and newborn health in Africa, drawing on successful examples from China's experience. 

The thematic session - China-Africa Cooperation in Maternal and Newborn Health – was co-organized by UNICEF, the National Health Commission (NHC) of China and the African Union.  The meeting was attended by Ministers of Health and senior health officials from African countries and China, international experts and representatives from international organizations and development agencies. 

Delegates expressed a deep concern over the high level of newborn deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 38 per cent of global neonatal deaths.   

Globally, approximately 7,000 newborns die every day from mostly preventable causes.  A child in sub-Saharan Africa is nine times more likely to die in the first month than a child in a high-income country. Improving maternal and newborn health in Africa is crucial to child survival and development, which is in turn vital for economic growth and human development in Africa. 

The Head of Health Nutrition and Population Social Affairs at the African Union, Dr Margaret Agama-Anyetei, stressed that "no child should be left behind in Africa's 2063 Development Agenda".

Over the last 20 years, millions of children's lives have been saved in China by expanding access to quality primary health care across the country. China is one of few countries that has demonstrated a parallel rapid reduction of neonatal and under-five mortality rates in recent decades. Progress has also been made in China to dramatically reduce maternal mortality.  A series of targeted policies and interventions across sectors have played a crucial role in China's monumental effort to improve the health status of mothers and newborns. China's experience and best practices in reducing neonatal, under five and maternal mortality, even in its less developed geographic areas, represent valuable, South-South experiences to share with African countries. 

"The Government of China always places maternal and child health (MCH) within the overall framework of economic and social development," said Ms. Song Li, Deputy Director General of the Department of Woman and Child Health of the National Health Commission of China.  "Over the last 30 years, China has achieved remarkable results in improving maternal and child health.   As the largest developing country in the world, China still faces many challenges in achieving the targets related to maternal and child health set in the Healthy China 2030 Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These challenges include unbalanced regional development, inadequate local service capacity, accelerated aging of the population, and other factors. China will continue to improve the situation of maternal and child health. 

"At the same time, China is willing to continue to fulfill its international responsibilities to address the maternal and child health issue together with other countries. China will continue to maintain sound partnerships with international organizations, further strengthen international exchanges, and share the successful experience of its MCH work with African countries. China stands ready to actively contribute to the improvement of women and children's health worldwide," Ms. Song Li said. 

Maternal and newborn health is an "unfinished agenda" of the Millennium Development Goals, and a key agenda in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Delegates at the session called on Governments of China and African countries as well as international organizations for an increased investment in maternal and child health in Africa and they agreed to intensify collaboration and enhance efforts building on the lessons learnt from China to accelerate results for children in Africa.


"Investing in newborn and child survival and the most disadvantaged is not only the right thing to do – it's the smart thing to do," said Ms. Shahida Azfar, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. 


"We call upon the Governments of China and African countries to make ending preventable newborn and maternal deaths our collective commitment from this High Level Meeting, to ensure that maternal, newborn and child health along the continuum of care are included as a key priority in the outcome document of the upcoming 7th FOCAC in Beijing in September, and to commit themselves with dedicated resources to address the issue in the next China-Africa cooperation plan of action, as a substantive contribution to achieving SDG3. 


"Let us join hands and end preventable newborn deaths," Ms. Shahida Azfar said.  


Ms. Ma Yili – a well-known Chinese actress and UNICEF Ambassador – addressed the meeting with a video message from a UNICEF-supported maternal and child health project site in Kenya.  She called on delegates to work together around the world to ensure all newborns survive and thrive.  


"I am here (in Africa) visiting UNICEF supported MCH projects that save the lives of newborns.  As a mother myself, it is deeply moving to hear the stories about how mothers and their babies are benefitting from quality primary care in their first few days of life and beyond…saving lives of all newborns in Africa will require many partners working together…By taking a few simple steps together, we can make a huge difference in the lives of newborns and give them the opportunities to survive and grow up healthy," Ms. Ma Yili said. 


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