This was revealed in the ‘€œTracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival’€ 2008 report which was released yesterday (SUBS: WED) on the eve of the Countdown to 2015 conference which takes place over the next three days.

The report uses existing data to measure coverage of important interventions such as contraceptive, visits by mothers to clinics within two days of giving birth, exclusive breastfeeding and case management of pneumonia – all approaches that have proven to reduce maternal and child mortality.

‘€œWe need to take stock of what we know. We know what is killing women and children, we know what measures we need to put in place and we know how to deliver these services. We need to scale up these services,’€ said Francisco Songane, Director of the Partnership for the Countdown 2015 for Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival.

The Millenium Declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 2000, with the aim of improving the well-being of the world’€™s people. It is made up of eight MDGs to be achieved by 2015.

Dr Peter Salama of the United Nations Children’€™s Fund said it was important to note that many countries were doing well despite the fact that they were ‘€œvery poor and have no doctors’€.

He said countries such as Nepal and Ethiopia were making good progress and had made use of lower levels of healthworker in the face of critical human resources constraints and that this had delivered a reduction in deaths of women and children.

‘€œMore money and doctors are great, but it’€™s not enough,’€ Salama said in response to a question why South Africa was doing so much worse than countries with less financial, human and health system resources.

Other panelists side-stepped the question, including Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of science journal, The Lancet. The Lancet ran a special edition looking in detail at the Countdown to 2015 report and focused on countries that have made good progress despite huge challenges.

On South Africa he said it would be ‘€œmore respectful’€ to refer to The Lancet article authored by South Africa’€™s ‘€œ Every Death Counts Writing Group’€ which has been included in the special Lancet edition. The group consists of some of the country’€™s top scientists and researchers.

 ‘€œAt least 260 women, babies and children died every day in South Africa, and no measurable progress has been made to reduce this mortality rate. This toll is too high in view of South Africa’€™s status as a middle-income country and capacity to provide services,’€ according to ‘€œEvery death counts’€™’€™.

A very high percentage of the maternal deaths, stillbirths and child deaths in South Africa were caused by inadequate care on the part of healthcare providers, described as ‘€œmodifiable factors’€.

‘€œModifiable factors’€ were identified in over half the cases of women who died in childbirth at clinics as well as in over half the child deaths. Over two-thirds of stillbirths had ‘€œavoidable factors’€, including the failure of healthworkers to attend to some of the pregnant women’€™s high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, proper monitoring during labour could save most of the 7 300 South African babies dying each year either during childbirth or shortly afterwards.

Salama said the reduction in countries such as Nepal, Laos and Bangladesh were proof that the MDGs were achievable in poor countries.

According to the report, only 16 (24%) of the 68 countries responsible for 97 percent of maternal and child deaths were on track to reach the fourth MDG. Only three have moved from ‘€œnot on track’€ to ‘€œon track’€ since 2005 when the first report was published. China is one of three making progress.

Salama pointed out that to reduce maternal and child deaths, programmes that had to be implemented relied on functioning health systems. The report found that in those countries not doing well, there was a failure to adequately   deliver services such as contraception, postnatal care and management of infections such as pneumonia.

Of the 68 countries in the spotlight, 54 had fewer than 2,5 healthcare professionals per 1 000 population ‘€“ too few to make a difference.

HIV prevalence and war conflict were also found to significantly stunt progress toward the MDGs.

The conference overlaps with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting a few hundred metres away and a joint session will be opened this afternoon (SUBS: THURS) by former Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane in his capacity as president of the African Monitor.

Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang will deliver the welcoming address this morning.