On Mother’s Day, mums around Australia will hopefully rejoice in the delights of their children, safe in the knowledge they eat well, have access to health services, the right to be educated and are not in any danger.
In the State of the World’s Mothers report released this week by Save the Children, we focused on the 4 million babies in developing countries who die before they are one-month-old, the 60 million mothers who give birth with no professional help and the very simple and cost-effective methods that can be adopted to make an impact on these appalling figures.
In ranking the best - and worst - countries to be a mother, Australia is ranked seventh, ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.
When you look at the situation for mothers all over the world, Australia is a pretty good place to be a mum. Ninety-nine per cent of infant deaths happen in developing countries. Most of these deaths are preventable and proven solutions using simple, low-cost tools already exist that can save the lives of many mothers and children.
The biggest killers of these young babies are preventable and treatable causes that would be unthinkable as a health threat to babies in Australia. Newborns die from infections, i.e. diarrhoea, tetanus, pneumonia as well as birth asphyxia and low birthweight. The poor health and well-being of mothers also contributes significantly to these deaths.
The health of the mother, female education, the presence of a skilled attendant at birth and access to, and use of, family planning services have been identified as the areas most strongly associated with child survival and well-being.
On Tuesday night, the Government released its budget for 2006-07 and recently its Aid White Paper. While there is increased support for Australian mothers and children, there is little immediate assistance for the majority of mothers in developing countries at risk of dying in childbirth.
The renewed focus on health and education proposed in the white paper is applauded however the lack of immediate budgetary support is disturbing. Getting aid right is important, hence the need for careful planning of major health and education initiatives for 2007-08. The time to act is now. Many wonderful health projects already exist, some implemented by non government agencies, many supported by AusAID, that are crying out for funding.
The Australian Government has been supporting a Primary Health Care project implemented by Save the Children Australia in Laos for the last 12 years. This project, with a very small investment from Australian taxpayers of approximately $1.50 per person a year of the population in Sayaboury province, has had impressive results.
Twelve years ago the province had some of the worst health statistics in the country, now, it has some of the most positive. People are living longer - the average life span in the province has increased from 57 years to 71 years, maternal deaths have decreased by over 75 per cent and infant and child deaths have decreased by over 70 per cent of the national average. We have clearly demonstrated that Millennium Development Goals can be met and very little money can save lives.
Funding for non government organisations has decreased. Through AusAID’s NGO co-operation program NGOs receive less than 1 per cent of the total aid budget. Non government agencies are a low cost but under utilised resource for the Australian Government in delivering our aid program. Save the Children urges the Government to provide greater support to successful NGO programs such as the Primary Health Care project in Laos so we can continue to make immediate and lasting improvements in children’s lives.
While still too high, only one in almost 6,000 women in Australia is likely to die in childbirth. Sadly, the majority of these women at risk are from our Indigenous population. Indigenous populations, particularly in remote areas, are disadvantaged in terms of access to culturally sensitive health care and education.
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