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House of Commons Hansard
02 October 2019
Volume 664
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Today I announced a new focus on ending preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children, working with the international community.

Every eleven seconds, somewhere in the world, a pregnant woman or new-born baby dies. Last year 5.3 million children under 5 died. More than 9 in 10 of all maternal deaths occur in the world’s poorest countries. The true tragedy of these stark figures is that in most cases, with the right care, these deaths are preventable.

The reality for many women in the developing world, is they do not have access to the vital rights, medicines and services that make such a difference to expecting mothers in the UK. Of course, these tragedies are not limited to the developing world. Families in the UK also suffer the heartbreak of losing a child or a mother, but while their pain is of course no less bearable it is, thankfully, far less common. Since 2010 in the UK there has been a 19% reduction in stillbirths and an 8% reduction in maternal mortality.

Internationally, UK aid has supported developing countries to reduce maternal deaths. Nepal has seen the maternal mortality ratio decrease by over 50% since 1996. In Bangladesh that figure has fallen by 68% since 1990. Sustained improvements in the health system as well as innovations have driven this success. This includes using expertise from the UK Royal College of Midwives to develop a professional cadre of midwives who can provide services in hard to reach rural areas of Bangladesh.

However, while we have made progress, that progress is not felt all round the world. Two-thirds of deaths still occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Recent figures published by the UN show that we are off track to meet global targets of a world where every pregnancy is wanted, where every childbirth is safe and where every child lives a healthy life. This is clearly not acceptable. Where women and children are dying from preventable causes in the developing world, we must act.

As International Development Secretary, I will ramp up the UK’s efforts to end preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children in the developing world by 2030. Through UK aid, we will work with international partners to boost our support for developing countries to make progress towards universal health coverage, with everyone able to affordably access the quality health services that they need, and with a health system they can be proud of, as proud as we are of our lifesaving NHS.

We will focus on the most vulnerable women, including FGM survivors who are significantly more at risk of complications during childbirth, as everyone in the world deserves access to the healthcare they need to live a healthy life.

We will also make sure women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the heart of that. On 23 September, at the United Nations general assembly, I announced a £600 million reproductive health supplies programme, as part of the UK’s commitment to universal health coverage, and as a champion of sexual and reproductive health and rights. This will give 20 million women and girls access to family planning and prevent 5 million unintended pregnancies each year up to 2025. Women and girls must have control over their bodies, and access to services they need. This Government are committed to defending and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and will continue to fight against the attempted global rollback on women’s rights.

An estimated 19.9 million children did not receive the vaccines needed during their first year of life, putting them at serious risk of potentially fatal diseases such as measles and meningitis, which is why we are hosting the replenishment of Gavi, the vaccines alliance, next year. Since 2000, UK aid to Gavi has helped vaccinate over 760 million children, saving 13 million lives and protecting a generation against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. As hosts of its replenishment next year, we are committed to working with our global partners to deliver Gavi’s new strategy that will vaccine a further 300 million children in the world’s poorest countries by 2025. We will invest more in vaccines and research so that developing countries benefit from the very best of British and international scientific expertise.

The senseless injustice of preventable deaths must end.