'Business As Usual' Approach to Health Failing Women and Children in Asia

News Release | 3 May 2009

BALI, INDONESIA - Despite decades of rapid economic growth, the Asia and Pacific region continues to suffer from surprisingly poor health outcomes for women and children, according to a new publication by experts in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and nine other major international development agencies.

The publication, titled Investing In Maternal, Newborn and Child Health: The Case for Asia and the Pacific, notes that 14 of 43 countries in the region are currently unlikely to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, which requires nations to cut the child and maternal mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.

It says that the Asia and Pacific region accounts for 56% of the newborn babies that die around the world, as well as 41% of children under five deaths, and more than 44% of women that die from maternal complications.

The publication warns that the business as usual approach to child and maternity mortality is failing and that if progress is to be made, governments in the region must reconsider not only how much they spend on essential care services, but how they spend it.

"Many factors both inside and outside the health sector affect health outcomes, including class, caste, customs, and girl's education," says ADB Vice-President Ms. Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, who launched the publication at the ADB's 42nd Annual Meeting in Bali. "But the level - and quality - of government expenditure is an important factor affecting health and equity, and is something that governments and their development partners can address."

The publication says that expenditure on health is often very low in the region, and that what little is spent is often paid directly "out of pocket" by poor people, resulting in further impoverishment. The publication found that more than 78 million people fell below the absolute poverty line in the region as a result of health care expenditures.

It recommends that governments and their development partners in Asia and Pacific scale up essential investments for women, infants and children. Increased and improved investments, it says, will result in long-term social and economic growth, protect the poor, increase social inclusiveness, and strengthen often fragile health systems.

"The Investment Case promotes more effective, efficient, equitable, and sustainable financing for essential health outcomes that particularly affect some of the most vulnerable members of society: women and their infants," says Ms. Schaefer-Preuss.

Joining her in launching the publication at the ADB Annual Meeting was Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; The Hon. Bob McMullan MP, the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance; and Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Director of the Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health.

An Investment Case for Maternal Newborn and Child Health in Asia and the Pacific presents the most recent analysis from experts from the ADB, and also the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID); Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Partnership For Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH); UNFPA; UNICEF; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); World Bank; and the World Health Organization (WHO).