‘They can play a major role in dramatically reducing maternal and infant mortality figures'

Save the Children, an NGO, has called for greater investment in female health workers as essential to saving mothers' and children's lives.

“Every year, close to two million children die before their fifth birthday, and around 67,000 women die annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth — but investment in women as community health workers can play a major role in dramatically reducing these figures,” said a statement issued by the organisation here to mark International Women's Day.

It is estimated that globally, 74 per cent of mothers' lives could be saved if they had access to a skilled health worker at delivery and emergency obstetrics care for complications, and 63 per cent of children under the age of five could be saved if all children were to receive a full package of essential healthcare, which includes skilled birth attendance, immunisations, and treatments for pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

“Women community health workers can be the heroes of their communities. A community health worker can take her knowledge, vital medicines and care where they are needed most — her own village. She is able to support her friends and neighbours even in hard-to-reach rural areas. What's more, she becomes an empowered woman within her community, becoming a wiser advocate for health,” said Shireen Vakil Miller, Director of Advocacy, Save the Children.

As part of a wider health system, women with just a few years of schooling could be trained and supported to provide advice and help during pregnancy and diagnose and treat some of the most common childhood illnesses, along with referring the more complicated cases to professionally trained nurses and doctors.

World leaders committed in 2000 to dramatically reduce maternal and infant mortality by 2015, but progress needs to be accelerated for those promises to be fulfilled and millions of avoidable deaths prevented. The NGO said increased investment in health was urgently needed, and yet as a result of the economic crisis, investment in a number of countries in health was being stalled or cut — and it is women and girls who are the hardest hit.