Global progress to reduce preventable deaths of pregnant women, mothers and babies has flatlined for the last eight years, according to the WHO. It is high time to recognise that investing in the health of women, children and adolescents is not only a moral imperative and a human rights requirement; it’s an essential investment in the future of communities and economies worldwide.
When it comes to the health of women, children and adolescents, the statistics are grim, particularly for those living in low-income countries.
Over 4.5 million mothers and babies die each year from preventable conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth; on average, a woman dies in childbirth every two minutes. Although sexual and reproductive healthcare is fundamental to the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, 270 million women and girls of reproductive age (15-49 years) cannot access contraception, and only 57% make informed decisions on sexual relations, contraception use and reproductive health care. This lack of agency for women and girls is particularly terrifying at a time when rates of forced and child marriage, gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy remain high, and are even at risk of increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardship, conflict and climate change.
There are also considerable risks to the health of children, not least from lack of access to vaccination, but also from malnutrition which is a factor in nearly 50% of deaths of children under 5 years of age. This year, it was estimated that 148 million children under five are affected by stunting – a staggering 22.3% of children in this age group.
The vast majority of this human suffering is preventable through improved access to healthcare, contraception, vaccination and nourishment. The consequences of inaction are severe, for women, children and adolescents but also for society and the wider economy. Women make up almost 40% of the global workforce, whilst also contributing the lion’s share of unpaid care work on which families and communities depend. Furthermore, good nutrition and health in early childhood supports cognitive and physical development and is critical to building human capital and to an individual’s future earning potential.
Investments in women, child and adolescent health are an investment in prosperity, with the possibility to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and health costs, and unleash human innovation and potential.
Despite this, over 60 countries remain off-track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets for maternal, newborn, and stillborn mortality reduction by 2030, and the funding gap currently stands at an estimated $33 billion per year globally.
The Global Financing Facility
Understanding the pressing need for action, in 2015 the World Bank, health leaders, the United Nations, and civil society organisations created a new multi stakeholder partnership, the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF).
The GFF’s unique, country-led model of financing has been critical to accelerating health investments and spurring health progress and empowerment for women, children and adolescents in 36 low- and middle-income countries, which together suffer two-thirds of global maternal, newborn and child deaths. Since its inception, $2 billion has been committed to the GFF Trust Fund by governments and other donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Susan T. Buffett Foundation, MSD for Mothers and Laerdal Global Health.
These funds are being used to successfully unlock a further $30.2 billion of funds through linking grants to World Bank IDA and IBRD financing, and by working with domestic governments and external donors to mobilise and align both government spending and development aid with national priorities to strengthen health systems and scale access. GFF also leverages private sector capabilities to deliver services and raise private finance.
GFF’s coordination approach helps to reduce duplication of efforts and inefficiencies, whilst prioritising the most impactful interventions that deliver tangible results. As a result of GFF’s catalytic investments and technical assistance,
- 96 million women have received four or more antenatal care visits
- 103 million women have delivered their babies safely
- 111 million newborns have benefited from early initiation of breastfeeding
- More than 500 million women have received access to modern family planning
- 187 million unintended pregnancies have been prevented.
The role of the private sector
Companies are increasingly playing a crucial role in strengthening health systems and widening access to care, and the Global Financing Facility is leveraging the synergies between the private and public sectors.
One example is the “Innovation-to-Scale” competition led by GFF, Laerdal Global Health, and the Government of Norway. Out of 320 global entries, 5 projects won up to $5M each, focusing on areas like safe childbirth, neonatal care, and digital health. The Safer Births Bundle of Care (SBBC) received a $4.5m grant, enabling 1200 health workers to be trained across 30 district hospitals in high-risk regions of Tanzania. Due to its success, a further $8.5 million has been awarded by the GFF to expand to over 100 hospitals, potentially saving 25,000 lives a year.
Meanwhile, the GFF supply chain partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MSD for Mothers, and the United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation, leverages private sector expertise in supply chains to develop innovative solutions to logistical challenges that prevent access to healthcare. In Mozambique, logistics experts from Merck and UPS partnered with Mozambique’s Central Medicine Authority (CMA), Africa Resource Centre, VillageReach, and Project Last Mile to ensure that essential medicines consistently reach women and children in remote areas.
Delivering the Future
There is a role for all businesses to play in improving access to healthcare for women, children and adolescents – whether through expertise in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, logistics, education or digital innovation; by supporting women in companies and their value chains to access healthcare and health-related information; or leveraging the advocacy voice of the private sector to call for governments to prioritise this critical issue.
Over the next few months, Business Fights Poverty is partnering with the GFF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in support of GFF’s #DeliverTheFuture campaign.The campaign seeks to raise a further $800m this year, to catalyse a further £20.5 billion of investment and reach 250 million women, children and adolescents in LMICs with lifesaving care by 2030.
Our collaboration will ask, “What is the role of the private sector in supporting governments to deliver healthier futures for women, children and adolescents?” It will explore how businesses can leverage innovation, partnership, novel financing and their advocacy voice to accelerate action. We warmly invite you to participate, support the campaign, and get in touch with us to share your own work and insights in this area.