Policy Brief

Maternal Health: Investing in the Lifeline of Healthy Societies and Economies

Africa Progress Panel
World Health Organization
Publication Year:
May 19, 2020
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being


One woman dies per minute in childbirth around the globe. Almost half of these deaths occur in SubSaharan Africa. Despite the progress made in many countries in increasing the availability of maternal healthcare, the majority of women across Africa remain without full access to this care. Countries face a variety of obstacles to improved maternal health: insufficient data prevents ministries from implementing programmes most effectively, while cost and other access issues prevent women from using the available resources. There are known, cost effective interventions that can dramatically reduce maternal mortality. Investing in maternal health is a political and social imperative, as well as a cost effective investment in strong health systems overall. Three key approaches can considerably improve the health of women in Africa: maximizing services of health workers; efficient financing mechanisms; and building political partnerships.

Community health worker (CHW) programmes can improve maternal health, and have successfully reduced maternal mortality in both Ethiopia and Nepal. CHWs are instrumental in providing healthcare to underserved populations, particularly in rural areas, with few healthcare facilities. CHWs can improve maternal health more cost-effectively and reach more of the population if given the proper tools, such as mobile phones, bicycles and delivery kits.

African governments continue to explore and implement different cost-effective strategies to finance maternal health in their countries. Countries have provided subsidies, abolished user fees, implemented national and community health insurance schemes, utilized performance based financing and built partnerships to improve maternal health. While donors can provide much needed funding, it is important for countries and donors to work together to ensure that programmes are cost-effective and in line with national priorities. Governments must also harness the power of the private sector to improve maternal health.

Political will and strong leadership make innovative, cost-efficient interventions possible. Because women are often marginalized economically, politically and socially, sustained leadership on gender equality is required to advance maternal health. Strong leadership at the highest levels promotes accountability within ministries and enables them to find reliable partners to drive and champion progress in maternal health.

Investing in maternal health is a wise health and economic policy decision. Women are the sole income-earners in nearly one third of all households globally. There are spill-over macro-economic benefits from the women whose lives are improved by maternal health interventions. Many maternal care interventions are proven to be both effective in reducing maternal death and cost-effective, especially for high-risk groups. Some of these interventions are cost-saving, yielding returns of investment of over 100 per cent.







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