Investing in Child And Maternal Health Makes Good Economic Sense

21 May 2009

A consortium of United Nations and private aid and financial organizations are calling for urgent investment in the health of mothers and children in Asia and the Pacific.  The consortium, called the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child-Health, says such investments make good economic sense.  

The consortium says Africa springs immediately to mind when discussing problems of child and maternal mortality.  The Asia and Pacific region does not.  It says the region is associated with rapid economic growth, as seen in countries such as China and India

And, yet, progress in Asia belies the reality.  Ian Pett is Chief of Health Systems and Strategic Planning for the UN Children's Fund.   He says the Asia and Pacific region accounts for nearly half of the global burden in maternal, newborn and child health.

"We have 41 percent of global under-five child mortality still occurring in Asia and the Pacific countries, 44 percent of global maternal mortality...More than half of the world's malnourished children are found in Asia and the Pacific.  It is a common perception that malnourishment of children, under-nutrition is a profound issue in Africa.  It is.  But, it is a far bigger, far more persistent issue in the Asian countries, particularly in South Asia and indeed some of the Pacific," Pett said.

A new study by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health notes few countries in the Asia-Pacific region have social security systems that will pick up the health bill.  

It says governments spend very little on health and what does get spent usually comes out of the pockets of the poor.  And, this leads to more impoverishment.

It says more than 78 million people have fallen below the absolute poverty line in the region as a result of health care expenditure.  

Acting Head of the Partnership, Flavia Bustreo, says long-term health and economic outcomes can be achieved by investing as little as three to $12 more a year per mother or child. She says a study by USAID finds investing in women and children pays big dividends.

"Thirty to 50 percent of the Asia economic growth between '65 and 1990 is attributed to the better and improvement in health of women and children.  Because, when you have children that are healthy and well nourished they develop their productivity and ability to learn and their capacity to observe and become productive elements of society is much higher.  And, that is why we are calling for these investments.  These are investments that make sense, economic sense, especially now for an economic crisis," Bustreo said.

The consortium shows that impressive results can be achieved in the poorest countries by using some basic and simple interventions, such as family planning and training female community health workers to be skilled birth attendants.  

It points to Nepal as one such country, which has managed to reduce child mortality by more than 45 percent and maternal mortality by 50 percent in the space of 10 years.