The Unfinished Business of MDG 5 on Maternal Health and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. and Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | July 10, 2014

At this pivotal time, as countries decide the future of the world’s development priorities and how billions of dollars will be spent, the fate of mothers lies in their hands.

Since 1990, deaths from pregnancy and childbirth have declined 22%. This limited progress is troubling. Countries had committed to reducing maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. That goal, even if it might have seemed ambitious, is nowhere near being achieved.

Policies and priorities to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5)—to improve maternal health—have not been enough. To help mothers, the paper argues, we must pursue new ways to re-energize and build on MDG5. The post-2015 development agenda should make maternal health a distinct priority, but a new paradigm is needed.

Investments in population policies have not done enough to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for mothers and their children over the past twenty years. It would be duplicative and ineffective to repeat or reinforce policies from the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in the post-2015 development agenda. ICPD policies emphasized power inequalities, fertility reduction, and particular norms, but did not focus like a laser on the quantifiable and essential goal of helping mothers survive childbirth.

Countries have already committed to implementing the ICPD beyond 2014 and already have a steady flow of resources for ICPD policies through development assistance and private philanthropy. Moreover, ICPD polices have already achieved remarkable success on their own terms. Even in Africa 98% of married women have access to modern methods of contraception. Recent claims that 220 million women in the developing world don’t have access to contraception are, at best, misleading. The reasons for this are examined in the paper. On the other hand, pregnant mothers have received the short end of the stick, when it comes to ICPD policies. That is why the post-2015 development agenda should formulate a new framework for improving maternal health that builds on MDG5.