Gender Smart | February 2, 2017

Two steps forward, one step back on maternal health

The team at


Women Rising

Back in 1990, for every 100,000 live births worldwide, 385 mothers died from complications of childbirth. By 2015, that number fell to 216 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Though impressive, the 44 percent reduction fell short of the Millennium Development Goal of 75 percent.

The global goal for 2030? To reduce maternal mortality to 70 deaths per 100,000 births. A cutoff of $600 million or more in U.S. aid for family planning is not going to make achieving that goal any easier. Even before the reimposition of the so-called “gag rule,” the U.N. had estimated an annual gap of $140 billion in the investment necessary to achieve Sustainable Development Goal №3, which seeks “to ensure health and well-being for all, at every stage of life.”

Preventing unintended pregnancy and reducing teenage pregnancy through universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care is the most effective way to reduce maternal mortality. In sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, less than half of women of reproductive age had access to modern contraceptive methods.

Can private capital help fill the gap? Calvert Foundation and Duke University spoke to more than 80 firms and 30 investors to examine how private investment can be deployed to strengthen health systems. Private sector investing in healthcare in Africa, for example, grew from $11 billion in 2007 to about $20 billion in 2016. But nearly all of that funding is directed at private providers and little of it impacts the poorest and most vulnerable women.

Impact investors need to better match their investments with the financing needs of emerging health providers, concluded Calvert’s Beth Bafford and Sarah Gelfand, now at Fidelity Charitable. “If impact investors can jointly take this approach, we will have an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen enterprises that, despite the challenges they face, can sustainably save and improve the quality of lives for millions.”

Photo credit: Social Documentary Network