SOUTH AFRICA— The inaugural International Maternal Newborn Health Conference (IMNHC) recently convened in Cape Town, South Africa, bringing together 1800 delegates from around the world to address the pressing challenges faced in improving maternal and newborn survival rates.

The International Maternal Newborn Health Conference (IMNHC) was hosted by the South African government in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Align Maternal and Newborn Health (AlignMNH) global program.

The conference received support from prominent organizations including the United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Children Fund, United States Agency for International Development, and the World Bank.

The World Health Organization (WHO) played a pivotal role as the conference’s technical partner, providing expertise in global data and analytics on maternal and newborn health.

A significant outcome of the IMNHC was the release of the first joint progress report from the Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) Initiative and the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP).

This report, titled “Improving Maternal and Newborn Health and Survival and Reducing Stillbirth,” shed light on the current state of maternal and newborn health, emphasizing the need for progress and collaborative efforts.

The conference delved into critical topics, including enhancing the quality of care for mothers and newborns, promoting equity and rights-based approaches, and fostering partnerships to drive advancements.

Experts in the field of maternal and newborn health shared their invaluable knowledge and experiences with attendees, exploring strategies to improve healthcare in challenging contexts, such as humanitarian and fragile settings.

Additionally, discussions revolved around addressing the escalating burden of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

By convening under the IMNHC umbrella, participants had the opportunity to exchange knowledge, share best practices, and accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The launch of the ENAP-EPMM progress report unveiled new data and goals, highlighting the concerning stagnation in improving survival rates since 2015.

The report underscored the importance of shared goals and accountability to drive future progress.

Tragically, the report revealed that 4.5 million women and babies die each year due to preventable causes during pregnancy, childbirth, or the early weeks after birth.

It called for global partnerships and investments to align efforts and accelerate progress at both the national and subnational levels.

Worryingly, if current trends persist, more than 60 countries are at risk of failing to meet the maternal, newborn, and stillborn mortality reduction targets outlined in the SDGs.

The Lancet Stillbirths Series 2021 highlighted South Africa’s specific challenge, with an estimated 23,500 stillbirths occurring annually, amounting to 14 stillbirths per 1,000 total births.

The ENAP-EPMM report emphasized the need to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

It also set targets for reducing neonatal mortality rates to 12 or fewer per 1,000 live births and stillbirths to 12 or fewer per 1,000 total births in all countries.

Closing equity gaps in maternal and newborn health outcomes was identified as another critical objective.

However, the report revealed insufficient political commitment and ambition among countries to reduce stillbirth rates, with only 31% of reporting countries and 34% of countries off track to reach the global stillbirth reduction target by 2030 having a national stillbirth target.

Ensuring essential health services are widely accessible, such as having at least four antenatal care contacts, skilled attendants at birth, and postnatal care within the first two days after birth, was identified as crucial.

Strategies to implement these milestones effectively will play a pivotal and the ENAP-EPMM calls for a shift from a system focused on emergency care for a minority of women to wellness-focused care for all.

This will include preventive and supportive care that responds to women’s needs and strengthens their capabilities in the context of respectful care.

The care for pregnant women should focus on the promotion of normal reproductive processes with first-line management of complications and access to backup emergency treatment when needed.

This care will continue to emphasize availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality of services 3 (AAAQ), as well as human rights principles (such as participation, information, and accountability), ensured through a robust enabling environment.

The new ENAP-EPMM approaches will be grounded in a holistic, human rights-based approach to sexual, reproductive, maternal, and newborn health.

The implementation effectiveness should be context-specific, systems-oriented, people-centric, and prioritizes equity.

Reaching the strategic goals set out by ENAP-EPMM will be achievable with political will backed by financial commitment, involvement of all stakeholders, concerted attention to support high-burden countries, and the improved ability to transparently monitor progress.

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