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Excluding children from DFID strategy is illogical and inefficient

The UK government has today launched a public consultation on its reproductive, maternal and newborn strategy for developing countries. Notice what’s missing? Children.

The proposed strategy focuses on mothers and newborns up to 28 days old, but excludes the millions of children who die after the first month of life. We have been making the case to the UK government for some time that, of the almost nine million children who died before the age of five in 2008, 55% of them were older than one month. This means the deaths of nearly five million children are outside the focus of the government’s new plan.

This is departing from the global consensus that maternal, newborn and child health must be tackled together. Separating these services out is inefficient and does not make economic sense. Integrated health services improve efficiency, are more user-friendly and reduce the costs of travelling multiple times and places.

Child and maternal mortality are completely interdependent. When children have a better chance of surviving, women have fewer pregnancies, which lowers the risk of them dying.

At the same time, African leaders meeting at the AU summit in Kampala have listened to global advice and have today announced a plan that tackles maternal, newborn and child health together.

While the African Union is clear about tackling child and maternal mortality together, the UK appears to be backtracking on the global consensus. The UK has previously championed an integrated approach to global maternal, newborn and child health and the Coalition government agreement even talked about “maternal and infant” health.  It is worrying that they have now gone back on those commitments.

We warmly welcome many elements of the British government’s announcement.  Reproductive health is a badly neglected area of development which has a high impact on maternal and child mortality. It’s encouraging that the UK is championing this area, especially as other countries are squeamish about issues such as abortion. The decades-long lack of attention to essential maternity services, like having a skilled health worker at the birth and effective postnatal care, has been a disgrace and this strategy would go some way towards rectifying that. These core services have been neglected as donors have preferred tackling one disease at a time.

We will be making a full submission to the consultation and keeping up with our argument that children should also be in the new strategy.

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