Wendy Morton MP

Minister for Europe and Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

14th December 2021

Ending preventable deaths and health systems strengthening: launch

A Kenyan woman and her newborn baby in a maternity ward supported by UK aid at Lodwar hospital, Turkana, northern Kenya, March 2017

In my role, I am surrounded by strong women – leaders, experts and fighters for issues they believe in. It is sobering for me to realise that many of these women would not be where they are today if they had not been able to freely make choices about their own lives and, even more fundamentally, their own bodies. The ability to choose when and how many babies to have, and with whom, for example. The ability to access safe, affordable, high-quality care when delivering their babies, with well-trained midwives in a well-equipped facility. The security of knowing that, on the whole, their babies and children will be well-nourished, vaccinated and have a clean environment to grow up in.

Tragically, this is not the reality for so many around the world. What should be a joyful event of childbirth actually turns into a ‘lottery’ of life and death. Every 6 seconds a pregnant woman, newborn baby or child dies somewhere in the world. Most of these deaths occur in low-income countries and often in fragile settings, to the most marginalised and isolated. When talking about preventable deaths, the inequalities are stark, and Covid-19 has made the situation much worse, disrupting routine services, stressing health systems that are already under pressure and making the costs of health care unmanageable. Recent estimates suggests that there have been more than two maternal and child deaths for every official COVID-19 death in low-income countries.

The Foreign Secretary has made the empowerment of women and girls a priority for the UK and today we are launching two critical approach papers that outline our way forward in tackling many of these challenges. The Ending Preventable Deaths of Mothers, Babies and Children approach paper encompasses action on what we believe are the main drivers of deaths. Human rights, gender equality, including sexual reproductive health and rights, is a central pillar along with three others: strong health systems; healthier lives and safe environments, including work on nutrition and adapting to climate change; and research, technology and innovation. The paper brings together a huge range of issues that we’ve been working on for decades but makes our approach more coherent, integrated and joined up.

Children play at a water pump in a flood-affected village, Sindh, Pakistan

Our Health System Strengthening position paper lays out our approach to building more resilient systems, able to cope with unexpected shocks such as COVID-19 and climate change, while at the same time delivering the quality, inclusive, equitable and accessible health services that we all need and trust. This is a double win for everyone – making the world both safer and healthier and saving lives.

Both papers outline how we will approach this by using all the levers we have at our disposal – whether through our diplomatic networks talking to other political leaders, sharing our technical expertise with other colleagues in Ministries of Health or using our development assistance more effectively. We know we can do things differently and better – and this is what I want to happen.

Both papers also highlight the importance the UK gives to partnerships. I strongly believe in this – working with others to support countries to strengthen their own systems in the way they want.

In my work, I am made aware of the lives of women in many countries – these are often full and happy but there are also real challenges they have to face. I’ve been especially touched by their struggles to access the kind, respectful services they need at times when they are at their most vulnerable – young women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant for example; women with complications in labour.

I am proud to be launching these papers today, for women and girls like these, and am proud that the UK will continue to focus on these issues.

Minister Wendy Morton launched these papers at a virtual event with UK and international partners on 14 December. Watch the launch event: