UK in Nepal: supporting maternal health and free health care
Nepal is recovering from a decade of conflict with devastating consequences for the delivery of basic services. One third of its population lives below the poverty line and one woman dies every two hours during pregnancy and childbirth, this is the equivalent to a fifth of the population of Falmouth being wiped out in a year. The impact of a woman’s death is devastating, for her family and community, as well as her surviving children. Globally a newborn baby is at least three times more likely to die within its first two years without its mother.
How is aid from the UK working?
The UK Government is the second largest bilateral donor to Nepal and has recently given £65 million in aid to be used across the country’s medical sector. Together with other donors the UK gives money directly to the government for the health sector – vital in helping the Nepalese government scale up and strengthen its public health system. In more recent months aid has helped the government of Nepal to abolish user fees in health care to ensure that the poor have access to free health services.
Aid has clearly helped Nepal make impressive progress. In just 5 years the under five mortality rate was reduced by around a third and since 1996 the maternal mortality rate has fallen by 50%. Nepal is on target to meet the Millennium Development Goal on child mortality before 2015 if present trends can be sustained.
The Safe Motherhood Program is another example of co-ordinated support for the government health system, with a specific focus on saving mothers’ lives. The UK has provided £20 million over five years in aid to finance this program that trains more doctors and nurses, improves health care facilities, provides equipment and encourages women to give birth in hospitals where qualified health workers can oversee their delivery and deal with any complications.
What has the impact been?
As well as the impressive decrease in the maternal mortality rate, over the last decade the percentage of births attended by a doctor, midwife or nurse has increased by 10% and in the past year an extra 60,000 women were able to give birth in health facilities.
Despite the progress in health Nepal still has a long way to go to meet the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality. Nine out of ten mothers still deliver their babies at home without a doctor, midwife or nurse.
- The Nepalese government needs to spend more of its domestic resources on health, but this alone will not be enough.
- The UK and other rich countries must provide more and better aid, especially aid that goes directly to the government and is properly monitored to ensure accountability and transparency.
- As one of the first wave of countries in the International Health Partnership, which aims to improve health services for poor people and accelerate progress on the health MDGs, Nepal hopes to get donors to co-ordinate their support and provide more effective long-term aid for the national health strategy.