• "We cannot accept that today women still die in the act of giving birth."


    The September 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a bold step towards improving the health of women and children around the world, especially in developing countries, where their needs are most acute.

    In agreeing to the MDGs, the member states of the United Nations General Assembly committed themselves firmly to measurable targets, achievable by 2015.  Key among these targets were to reduce, by two thirds, the mortality of children under five years; and to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters.

    Ten years later, it is sadly clear that we are still far from achieving these goals.  Mortality rates for women and children remain both extremely high and profoundly objectionable.

    The figures speak for themselves.

    Every year, half a million women die during pregnancy or because of problems in childbirth.  Almost all of these dying women are in Africa and Asia.  Between them, they represent 95% of the world’s maternal mortality.  In the case of maternal mortality, while the death of the mother is wrong and terrible, it is still not the end of the story: with the mother’s death, the structure of the entire family is damaged to the point of collapse.  As a consequence, everybody suffers.

    Yet, in the vast majority of cases, maternal mortality is preventable if women have access to adequate health care before and during childbirth.  We cannot accept that today women still die in the act of giving birth.

    Of those women who do not die in the course of their pregnancy or childbirth, more than three hundred million continue to live with debilitating and stigmatising problems resulting from their pregnancies.  Again, the vast majority of these disabilities could be avoided.

    Despite the combined efforts of major players in the fight against such post-partum complications, including obstetric fistula, women continue to suffer in silence, and to be subject in some communities to unacceptable stigma.  The shame and humiliation experienced by these women constitute a suffering as difficult, if not more difficult, to endure than the physical pain they bear daily.  Yet they do endure it, and with a courage that demands our admiration.  We will not abandon these women, and we continue our efforts to educate local communities to the importance of these issues.

    At the dawn of a new decade, I invite you once again to join our efforts.  Our goal is not only to remain steadfast in the fight against child and maternal mortality, but to bring others together in the service of this most basic and important of causes; and, ultimately, to be successful in our fight.  In the face of an unacceptable situation, we want to provoke an unprecedented mobilization.  The situation demands no less from us. Together, we can reduce maternal and infant mortality. 

    Together, we can stem the general failure of health systems.  Together, we not only can, but must, do everything in our power to facilitate access to quality health care.  We must continue to share our knowledge, and to compare the results of our research, with the common goal of providing a solution to the problem of maternal and child health.

    The Millennium Development Goals were a significant and important promise, and one that we cannot allow to be broken. I am convinced that it is only by joining together that we can achieve them.  Working together, though, I believe we can exceed them.

    Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan

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