Andrew Mitchell: The choice for women

Andrew MitchellIn the past 24 hours, 980 women will have died in pregnancy and childbirth.  The risk of a woman in the UK dying from maternal causes is only 1 in 8,200 during her lifetime. In Sierra Leone, that risk becomes 1 in 8.

Faced with such horrifying statistics, it’s clear that urgent action must be taken to save more lives. Women are the engine of the family and without healthy mothers, families, communities and societies fail across the world.

That is why the British Government has been running a public consultation on reproductive, maternal and newborn health. It’s not too late to make your voice heard. “The choice for women” consultation ends on 20 October, and we want to hear from medical professionals like you.

I’d like BMJ readers to share their expertise in our consultation. I’d like to hear how you think the UK government can improve reproductive, maternal and newborn health in developing countries. What should we prioritise? What can we learn from experience in this area around the world? How can we tackle neglected and sensitive issues such as the sexual health of adolescents?

This consultation is part of the government’s drive to increase transparency and accountability. Your contribution to our Choice for Women consultation will help us design a new business plan which will act as a blueprint for the UK Government’s work across the world on reproductive, maternal,and newborn health.

There’s never been a more important time to make your view heard. At the recent UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in New York there was an unprecedented commitment from the international community to saving the lives of more than 16 million women and children. With just five years to go until the deadline for meeting them, now is the time for the international community to show that it is committed to keeping its promises to the world’s poor.

Of all the MDGs, MDG 5, which aims to achieve universal access to reproductive health and reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters, is the most dangerously off track. That is why the UK Government pledged to put women and girls at the heart of our development approach at the summit and committed to doubling the number of maternal, newborn and children’s lives saved by 2015.

Over the next five years, UK aid will save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth, a quarter of a million newborn babies and enable 10 million couples to access modern methods of family planning. It is unacceptable that 215 million women in the developing world say that they would like to delay or avoid pregnancy, but do not have access to modern family planning methods. We want to give women the choice to decide if and when they become pregnant.

With the right support, women, and the children they bear, will be empowered to make an economic contribution: to become doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs who will in turn propel their countries towards sustainable economic growth. No longer will 50% of a country’s talent
and workforce be wasted.  

But we cannot do this alone. Everyone has their part to play – including health professionals from around the world. I do hope that you can spare a few minutes to take part in our consultation and make your voice heard. We need your views and expertise to help us end the tragedy of women and babies dying in childbirth.

Andrew Mitchell is UK Secretary of State for International Development