5. Improve maternal health

Improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Tanzania: From Science to Fiction – Presentation by Abdallah Katunzi

This article addresses two crucial MDG goals – reduction of child mortality (MDG 4) and improvement of maternal health (MDG 5). It assesses the situation pertains these two goals in Tanzania from a scientific perspective. This article is a must read for those who want to understand the fundamentals of these two MDG goals in Tanzania.

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"2010 Malawi Millennium Development Goals Report", by Government of Malawi: Ministry of Development Planning and Cooperation – Summary by Abdallah Katunzi

Maternal Mortality Ratio

This report is important as it details progress, challenges and projection on the implementation of the MDGs in Malawi. This is a reference report for someone who wants to understand how Malawi progresses as far as MDGs are concerned.

Download the abstract of "2010 Malawi Millennium Development Goals Report"

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Summit of First Ladies on maternal and neonatal health, by Kpénahi Traoré (photo by Warren Sare) – Mali


Postpartum maternal and neonatal mortality are a serious problem in many African countries. According to the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Report, over 350,000 women die every year from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of these women live in developing countries. The risk of postpartum death among women in sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 30, while this risk is 1 in 5,600 in developed regions. The problem is of paramount importance and is now being taken seriously in several states. The First Ladies of West and Central Africa showed their commitment to the fight against postpartum maternal and neonatal mortality by organising a summit from 5th to 7th October 2011 in Bamako (Mali). The aim of this meeting was to carry out an assessment of "Vision 2010," an initiative launched by eight of the participants in 2001 in Bamako, to reduce postpartum and neonatal mortality and morbidity in West and Central Africa.

The idea behind ​​"Vision 2010" is to coordinate a series of activities to further the contribution that the wives of African heads of state can make to the achievement of MDGs 4 and 5, namely to significantly reduce postpartum maternal and neonatal mortality. The participation of the First Ladies in this project has had a real impact, developing a real awareness of the problem and improving the efforts made to resolve it.

The following images illustrate the then-First Ladies engaged in working sessions. They show the participation of over 15 wives of African heads of state, as well as Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré, and around 100 other participants.

Moolaadé by Ousmane Sembène - Edited by AIDOS

Target 5B: Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.


The film Moolaadé, by director Ousmane Sembène tells the story of one woman’s opposition to the traditional practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), a practice which has provoked growing condemnation, both in Africa and internationally, since the early 1980s.

The film won the award Un Certain Regard at the 57th Cannes Film Festival, and represents one of the most important testimonies by an African artist to the need to achieve MDG 5, to “improve maternal health”.

Let’s Help Mothers: the experience of Millennium News by AMREF

5.B Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.



"Our views on the solutions

The government should help pregnant women by giving them mosquito nets and information about good nutrition and how to get to hospital.
The government should also build more hospitals in the slums, and support schoolgirls by teaching them to avoid having sex at the wrong time."
From the educational sheet Goal 5: Let’s Help Mothers

Welcome to Millennium News: world news from the ghetto!"This is the way in which two young journalists running a report on MDG 5, to "improve maternal health", greet their viewers.

They are interviewing Nicholas, a doctor in the poor area of Dagoretti. When they ask him to talk about maternal mortality, he explains that the main cause is ignorance, and that education is essential to help women to cope after childbirth. On top of this, he notes the problem of AIDS and the lack of access of pregnant women to medical facilities. In Kenya, one in every 16 women dies due to complications during or after childbirth, while in developed countries this rate is one in 7,300. The programme also features a report from a correspondent named Elisabeth, reporting from an outpatient medical clinic in the Rift Valley, where pregnant women from remote areas come to receive various tests, including a test for AIDS. An increase in the number of women using this hospital was reported after doctors and nurses travelled out to the surrounding village to invite them.Despite this, many women unfortunately still prefer to visit midwives, as unlike the doctors in the hospital, midwives do not charge any money. A midwife from one of the villages, who has completed a course to become a "Traditional Birthing Assistant" at the hospital, is also interviewed.

The programme concludes with an appeal to new fathers to take care of their wives, even though this is not one of the country’s traditions. This short broadcast reveals the views of street children from the slums of the Kenyan capital Nairobi on MDG 5. The young reporter interviews a Kenyan doctor and a traditional midwife, broadcasting direct testimonies to the difficult situation that pregnant women face. The broadcast forms part of the project "Millennium News – Giving a Voice to Street Children", carried out by AMREF, the main non-profit health organisation operating in Africa.

The report is in Swahili, with subtitles in Italian and can be accessed here.

The Millennium Villages Project and Maternal Health by VV. AA.

5.A Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.


The Millennium Villages Project carried out by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Millennium Promise and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme): Best Practices Put in Place in the Village of Ruhiira (Uganda) (summary by Stefania Lorelli) The Millennium Villages project was carried out up by the Earth Institute at Columbia University in collaboration with Millennium Promise and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the aim of supporting sustainable development in villages in extreme poverty. The project used these villages as "case studies" on which it focused efforts to successfully achieve all of the MDGs, with a view to assessing the replicability of the methods used.

The success of the Millennium Villages project lay in the collaboration it fostered between government partners, the private sector, NGOs, foundations, universities and research centres. The project also employed a bottom-up approach, with the communities themselves driving and promoting the development process. This approach was facilitated by the creation of joint committees, which involved local community representatives in decisions relating to the elaboration of interventions designed to achieve the various goals.

In July 2004, Sauri, in Kenya, was designated the first Millennium Village, with research beginning in January 2005.
The project now encompasses 14 villages in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 500,000 people are now involved, offering up their own skills and resources in order to further the project.

The initiative is based on an observation of the daily difficulties faced by a large proportion of the African population in meeting certain basic needs. People in rural areas often have to walk for miles to access clean water and collect firewood.
Geographic and environmental features in various parts of the continent make certain areas completely inaccessible, with highly negative consequences in terms of agricultural productivity, cost of transport and the spread of disease. These factors together make countries more vulnerable to the conditions of extreme poverty.

The success of the village of Ruhiira, in Uganda is of great interest in terms of attempts to achieve MDG 5, to "improve maternal health". Greatly improved levels of maternal health have been one of the main achievements of this Millennium Village. This progress has been the result of the implementation of a midwives programme, which, since its inception in 2007, has ensured that no mother giving birth with the assistance of a midwife has died during childbirth. This success can be attributed to a combination of factors, including excellent provision of information on contraception, assistance during pregnancy, the implementation of a system of ongoing collaboration between community health workers and clinics, a substantial improvement in medical facilities and the presence of midwives during labour.

The improvement in maternal health is clearly shown by the increasingly positive record of caesarean births registered in the village of Ruhiira, resulting from greater, albeit still low, levels of investment in basic medical equipment. Project managers have also confirmed that attempts to raise awareness among villagers of new contraceptive methods, which began in 2007, have, despite a number of difficulties, succeeded in overcoming a number of taboos. Despite this, much progress remains to be made, particularly in convincing fathers to make use of contraception as a means of protection.

UN Millennium Project
Millennium Villages

"Cut off" by Rasoanaivo - Mauritius

Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.



William Rasoanaivo (from Mauritius) tells the dramatic story of a young woman who stands up against the local culture, which still places a premium on female genital mutilation as an element of social belonging. The story deals with an issue of vital importance to women, addressing in particular sub-goal 5.B "to achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health". Magda struggles to save herself and her sister from having to undergo this custom, aware that since men created it, they can also put an end to it.