'Community help needed to boost maternal & child health'
07 April 2005

Geneva: As the international community marks World Health Day by focusing attention on the difficulties faced by mothers and children, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is stressing the need to actively engage with communities and civil society to improve the health of vulnerable women and children around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that half a million mothers die in childbirth every year and almost 10.6 million children under the age of five die from a handful of preventable and treatable conditions.

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, supported by the International Federation, are working in the most disadvantaged communities in the world to improve their health, whether through better access to safe water, playing a key role in mass vaccination campaigns, first aid training, hygiene awareness or training traditional birth attendants.

“The International Federation supports the WHO’s call for a broad-based movement involving civil society and communities themselves,” says its Secretary General, Markku Niskala, adding that the world’s goals for mothers and children, as set out in the Millennium Development Goals, will not be achieved by governments and others without the full engagement of communities in the design, implementation and monitoring of health services programmes. “It is clear that the Red Cross and Red Crescent, with its unique network of trained community-based volunteers, is well placed to make a difference to the health of vulnerable people” Niskala adds.

One region where the Red Cross is acting decisively to improve maternal and child health is Latin America, where more than 170,000 children under the age of five die every year from preventable illnesses, and where great inequities exist in access to health, not only between rich and poor, but also between men and women. At least 11 National Red Cross Societies in the Americas are already implementing far-reaching mother and child health programmes.

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