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Dr. Mark Dybul

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Mothers, Mosquitoes, and Millennium Development Goals

Posted: 05/06/09 05:10 PM ET

Progress is being made to save the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. Still, every minute, a woman dies of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, leaving her baby more likely to die within two years. Most of these deaths could be prevented. Join The Huffington Post and the Mothers Day Every Day campaign in the global movement to call upon world leaders to invest in health workers and strengthen health systems so that every day, everywhere in the world, all women and newborns have access to lifesaving care.

Some of us in the United States might be preparing to celebrate Mother's Day with a backyard party and are worried about pesky mosquitoes after rains across the country. We should consider ourselves lucky to view mosquitoes as pests: in much of the world, mosquitoes cause malaria and malaria causes around 500 million illnesses and more than 1 million deaths each year.

Malaria is particularly devastating in Africa, where it kills a child every 30 seconds -- several by the time you finish reading this posting. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable because pregnancy reduces a woman's immunity to malaria, making her more susceptible to infection and increasing the risk of illness, severe anemia and death. For the child, maternal malaria increases the risk of stillbirth, premature delivery and low birth weight. And 80 percent of malaria deaths are among children under 5. Malaria is a major cause of maternal and child death.

Malaria is preventable and treatable through simple interventions, such as sleeping under insecticide treated nets, identification of the infection and provision of effective combination medication and other measures that can be promoted during women's antenatal care visits. Reducing the spread of malaria will help us save the lives of mothers and their newborns -- and help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The United States, and over 190 countries around the world, committed to the MDGs. These bold goals -- to eradicate extreme poverty, increase women's equality, reduce child mortality, increase primary education, and combat HIV/AIDS and malaria -- are being championed worldwide by political and civil society leaders. However, Millennium Development Goal 5 -- to reduce maternal mortality by 75% -- remains startlingly off track.

The failure to make progress on maternal health is particularly disturbing because we know that healthy mothers are the key to achieving the other MDGs.

As we prepare to celebrate Mother's day, we are reminded of what we all instinctively know to be true -- mothers are the heart of the family, the community and, therefore, of nations. There are data that confirm what we know to be true. Perhaps the most striking reality is that when a mother dies, newborns are up to 10 times more likely to die within two years than those whose mothers stay alive.

Healthy mothers contribute to reducing poverty and growing economies. A women's unpaid household, care giving and farm work worldwide equals about a third of the world's Gross National Product. A mother's death lowers family income and productivity, reducing the chances that a family can be lifted out of poverty and affecting the entire community. And women's income is more likely than men's to go for food, education, medicine and other family needs.

When mothers die, children are less likely to go to school and it is doubtful that girls have hope to improve their lives because they will be pulled away to fill their mothers' roles. If children are not educated, economic growth is further imperilled.

Providing strong maternal health services promotes the overall health of mothers and their families, not only because they are more likely to spend money on health care for the family, but because women who use maternal health services are more likely to use other health services, such as HIV/AIDS testing and treatment. Women who use maternal health care services are also more likely to obtain vaccinations for themselves and their children, and to get information about malaria prevention.

So back to those mosquitoes. . . something as simple as a $10 bed net can save the lives of mothers and children and be part of giving life, hope and opportunity to many of our global brothers and sisters. So think about what you can do to play your part.

As we celebrate one thing everyone in the world has in common - we all had a mother - and we remember and celebrate our own mothers and their invaluable contributions to our lives, let's also reflect on the evidence: healthy mothers give birth to healthier children, families, communities, and nations. Join us in making Mothers Day Every Day.


Check out the rest of our Countdown to Mother's Day series by clicking here