Latin America: unequal access to health care is still no. 1 killer for moms and kids

September 11, 2013


A premature baby receives treatment

  • Worldwide, 165 countries have signed the UNICEF ‘A promise renewed’ pledge, 32 of which are in the Americas.
  • Despite falling infant and maternal mortality rates, inequalities remain within the region.
  • Delegations from 30 countries, international agencies and civil society meet in Panama to renew their promise to tackle infant and maternal health.

How can Latin America best ensure a child does not die needlessly?

This was one of the questions on the minds of delegates meeting in Panamá to renew the region’s promises to advance child health care and address inequalities in access.

So far, 32 governments within the Americas have signed UNICEF’s ‘A Promise Renewed’ pledge. Launched in June last year, the pledge seeks to end preventable child deaths and to do so by ensuring they get a healthy start in life. The goal is to reduce deaths worldwide from to 20 per 1,000 live births by 2035. 

Preventing child mortality

In Latin America and the Caribbean today a child’s parents’ socio-economic status still has a significant impact on a child's future. While child mortality has more than halved in recent years, children from low income homes are five times more likely to die before their 5th birthday. The majority of whose deaths could have been prevented.

It’s these children that universal health-care programs such as Argentina’s Plan Nacer and Peru’s Qali Warma, are concentrating on. Plan Nacer provides access to basic health services for children and pregnant mothers without health coverage.

"Quite often he gets sick when it’s cold. Here they give him the vaccinations he needs," explains Josefina Godoy, whose son is covered by Plan Nacer, which has benefitted more than 2 million mothers and children since 2004

Nutrition is the focus of a joint initiative between the World Bank and the United Nations World Food Program in Peru. By providing nutritious school meals to public primary school children from age 3,  Qali Warma aims to give them the best possible learning environment in which to develop and grow.

" During my first pregnancy I wasn’t here because the house hadn’t been built yet. Now I give thanks because they have looked after me very well. "


Patient at Altagracia Maternity Home

Improving maternal health care

The first 1,000 days of a person’s life are some of the most critical and improving maternal health is closely tied to the aim of ending preventable child deaths.

Over the past 20 years, the region has made significant advances in improving maternal health and mortality rates have fallen over 40%. However, behind this drop, rates vary dramatically depending on a woman’s ethnicity, social or economic status.

In fact, deaths from pregnancy-related causes are three times higher amongst women from the region’s indigenous communities.

This is a situation that Nicaragua is looking to face head on, providing maternity homes for pregnant women in remote areas to ensure they get the necessary care and attention during their pregnancy. Justina was cared for in Altagracia prior to the birth of her second child.

"During my first pregnancy I wasn’t here because the house hadn’t been built yet. Now I give thanks because they have looked after me very well," she explains.

Reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are at the cornerstone of the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, respectively. And while the region is close to achieving the majority of the 8 goals before the 2015 target, maternal health lags behind.

The work of the Bank in Latin America and Caribbean aims, among other goals,  to improve maternal and child health care, prevent neonatal deaths and reduce teenage pregnancy. World Bank Sector Manager for Health, Joana Godinho explains that improving mother and child healthcare networks is central to the Bank’s work in the region.

Follow the event live online and join the pledge via Twitter using the #PromiseRenewed tag.