By Haile Gebrselassie, Save the Children Child Ambassador, two-time Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion.
Ethiopia, my country, is the cradle of humanity. The first stone tools were found here and Lucy, a 3 million year old skeleton and the first Homo sapiens, was found in the village of Hadar, on the southern edge of the Afar triangle.
Our history is ancient and continuous. We are fiercely proud of the fact that we are the only African nation never to have been colonised. But like every nation our history is chequered and we have suffered.
In 1983, when I was ten years old, the first flames of hunger were flickering throughout Ethiopia. It was that year my mother died due to birth related complications. In those days, in my village, this was not very unusual.
My mother died following birth complications. The women of the village tried to help, but when I think back I realise that none of them really knew what they were doing.
In so many ways, we have made progress in saving the lives of mothers and their newborns since then. Today, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been halved since 1990.
The number of women who die in childbirth has declined by almost a third – that’s millions of kids who get to grow up with a mother and millions more getting a chance at life.
What we have achieved so far must be celebrated. The actions of our governments over the last fifteen years have brought about the greatest leap in children’s wellbeing survival in history. This change has been brought about by bold political leadership at the highest levels.
But even today, half of all women giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa give birth without any skilled help. Globally, 2 million women also give birth completely alone. A direct result of this lack of skilled health workers, as Save the Children has shown in a new report today, a million newborn babies die on their first day of life. A single baby’s death is one death too many.
The good news is that we know what needs to change: ensuring every birth is supported by quality trained health care workers who have the expertise to help premature babies survive, deal with birth complications and prevent newborn infections can, with some wider steps, help prevent as many as two-thirds of these newborn deaths.
Every country in the world must ensure that all mothers-to-be have access to a midwife with life-saving medicines and equipment.
Africa is finally a continent on the rise – and children are the key to our continuing success. I want them to grow up to be the doctors, lawyers, teachers and even athletes that they are meant to be. The race for survival is a marathon, not a sprint. We are in this for the long haul. Like long distance running, this will take endurance, commitment and conviction. We have seen the incredible results when we put our minds to it.
The prize for these children is much greater than an Olympic medal. They get a fair chance at life, regardless of how poor their parents are, where they live or whether they are a boy or a girl. This is a race that we can win.
- Read the new report from Save the Children, Ending Newborn Deaths
- Support mothers and newborns everywhere by asking world leaders to make these 5 promises to save newborns in their first day
- Join the conversation on Twitter using #firstday.