Seven innovations could help save two million mothers and babies by 2030, said the annual Goalkeepers report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“By making new innovations accessible to those who need them most, 2 million additional lives could be saved by 2030, and 6.4 million lives by 2040. That’s 2 million families spared an unimaginable heartbreak — and 2 million more people who can shape and enrich our world,” Foundation co-chairs Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates, write in the report.

“Since 2016, progress in reducing global maternal mortality has stalled, and in some countries — including the United States — death rates have risen steadily. Across the world, nearly 800 women die in childbirth every day. Though deaths of children under 5 have continued to decline since the mid-2010s, the first month of a newborn’s life continues to be the most dangerous, accounting for almost half of all under-5 deaths today. An estimated 74 per cent of child deaths happen during a baby’s first year,” a note from the foundation said.

While there has been improvement in the health of mothers and babies in the 2000-15 period, both writers point out, progress has stalled since Covid-19. They called for action to put the world back on track to achieving the global goal of cutting maternal mortality rate to less than 70 out of 100,000 births and newborn mortality to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030.

“As is so often the case in global health, innovations aren’t making their way to the people who need them most — women in low-income countries, as well as Black and Indigenous women in high-income countries like the United States, who are dying at three times the rate of white women. That needs to change,” said French Gates. “We have seen over and over again that when countries actually prioritise and invest in women’s health, they unleash a powerful engine for progress that can reduce poverty, advance gender equality, and build resilient economies,“ she added.

“Over the past decade, the field of child health has advanced faster and farther than I thought I’d see in my lifetime,” said Bill Gates. “If our delivery can keep pace with our learning — if researchers can continue developing new innovations and skilled health workers can get them to every mother and child who needs them — then more babies will survive those crucial first days.”

Midwives can deliver innovations

Several life-saving innovations highlighted in the report can be delivered by midwives and birth attendants in communities, the note said.

They included a bundle of interventions to reduce postpartum haemorrhage (the leading cause of maternal death) by 60 per cent for less than $1 per package;  Bifidobacteria (B Infantis), a new probiotic supplement that, when given to an infant alongside breastmilk, combats malnutrition —one of the leading causes of newborn deaths; multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) that boost survival rates for babies by helping replete nutrient stores in pregnant women and ensuring those vital nutrients are transferred to the baby; a new one-time infusion of IV iron for women that replenishes iron reserves during pregnancy, protecting against and treating anaemia (a condition that is both a cause and effect of postpartum haemorrhage and affects almost 37 per cent of pregnant women), the report noted.

Other innovations included antenatal corticosteroids (ACS), which are given to women who will give birth prematurely, to accelerate foetal lung growth, providing several weeks of maturation in just a few days; azithromycin, which reduces maternal infections during pregnancy and prevents infections from spiralling into sepsis and reduces mortality when given to infants in high-mortality settings; and an AI-enabled portable ultrasound that empowers nurses and midwives to monitor high-risk pregnancies in low-resource settings to ensure that risks are diagnosed and addressed early.

Halfway to the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report says, the world is off track on 18 indicators — from poverty to gender equality, education to food security, health to climate.