Africa's Future: Improving the Health of Mothers and Children

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(June 2009) Every year, 265,000 mothers die in childbirth and 4.5 million children die before the age of 5 from preventable causes in sub-Saharan Africa. To discuss these stark facts and the benefits of family planning programs for the health of mothers and children, three researchers were part of a congressional briefing on June 5, 2009. The event was co-sponsored by the Association of Population Centers, Population Action International, Population Association of America, Population Council, Population Reference Bureau, Population Resource Center, and UCLA Bixby Center on Population and Reproductive Health.

John Bongaarts, vice president and distinguished scholar at the Population Council, discussed population growth and policy options in sub-Saharan Africa. “It’s become very clear…when you talk to women, that there’s no need for coercion and women want to use contraception and often have unwanted children,” Bongaarts said. “Reducing unintended pregnancies and population growth contributes to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.”

Jotham Musinguzi, regional director of Partners in Population and Development, Africa Regional Office in Uganda, focused his presentation on improving the health of mothers and children in Uganda. Musinguzi pointed out the effects of maternal mortality—the lost lives, rights, and productivity—and the range of effective, low-cost strategies to improve the health of mothers and children. “What is the message?” Muzinguzi asked in conclusion. “No woman should lose her life while giving life.”

Nafissatou (Nafy) Diop, reproductive health and family planning technical advisor and country director for the Population Council in Senegal, discussed the sociocultural causes of maternal mortality and proven strategies to address maternal health, with a focus on Senegal. “I spoke with a woman who told me that during a prenatal visit, the midwife offered her a prescription, lab tests, and a sonogram. But it cost too much for the woman, so she didn’t get the care she needed until the pain was too much to bear,” Diop said. “Her condition deteriorated to the point that she needed surgery. Her baby died. As she lay in her hospital bed recovering, she finished her story by saying, ‘And in the end, this is what it cost me.’ This is one story from a country where hundreds of thousands of women and babies die from pregnancy-related causes every year.”