Although maternal and child survival improved markedly during the Millennium Development Goal era (2000 – 2015), Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 remain mostly unfulfilled and maternal, newborn and child mortality rates remain unacceptably high.

Of the more than 130 million pregnancies and births occurring each year, an estimated 303,000 result in the mother’s death, 2.6 million in stillbirth and another 2.7 million in a newborn death.  Almost six million children die before the age of five and 70,000 adolescents die from pregnancy related causes. The majority of these fatalities occur in poor communities in developing countries and are largely avoidable.

Women and Children First is dedicated to addressing these issues. Established in 2001, the charity has an excellent 15-year track record of providing technical support and assistance to partners to deliver projects which have a proven impact on maternal and newborn health. 

Women and Children First works primarily in poor rural communities in Africa and Asia to improve the health of women, children and adolescents. 

Our priority is to work in settings where inequalities exist in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health. Our target groups are girls and women (aged 10 - 49 years), particularly those who are pregnant or new mothers, newborns, and children under five years of age.

We focus on enabling women, children and adolescents to survive and thrive:

  • Survive – our work reduces maternal, newborn and under-five mortality and the prevalence of HIV, TB and malaria
  • Thrive – our work seeks to reduce malnutrition, promoting universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and rights, good quality early childhood development for girls and boys and universal health coverage
  • Transform – our work contributes to eradicating extreme poverty, eliminating harmful practices and discrimination and violence against women and girls and achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene.

We do this in three ways:

  • We support the formation and facilitation of women’s groups using a participatory learning and action approach that empowers communities to take action to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.
  • We promote improvement in the quality and accessibility of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent care provided in health facilities.
  • We support our partners to advocate at local and national level to strengthen policies and provide adequate resources for reproductive, maternal, newborn child and adolescent health.

This work will contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5.

Read our full strategy here.

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Women and Children First’s Senior Programmes Manager has just returned from a trip to Northern Uganda. This is what Ruth had to say:

“This trip was an especially important one. The Acholi sub region, where we are working, has been affected by a serious malaria outbreak since 2015. This has affected about one million people within the Gulu district registering the highest number of malaria cases with 118,787 malaria patients. The emergency response is overwhelmed by the severity of the problem.”

“I saw this with my own eyes. Health centre waiting rooms are teeming with mums and children awaiting malaria testing and treatment and all of the women’s groups I visited, prioritised malaria as their number one problem facing their community at the moment.”

“Seen here in the photo are men & women working together in Bolipe village to identify maternal and newborn health problems. The main problem is malaria”

Women and Children First is working with Amref Health Africa in Uganda to run 150 women’s groups to improve maternal and child health in Gulu and Amuru districts in northern Uganda. The women’s groups are providing an essential forum for communities to raise awareness about malaria prevention as well as providing a channel for the community to raise their malaria concerns with health workers and decision makers.

This three-year project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

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Esther Sharma, Midwife and Trustee talks about how the success of Women and Children First's women's groups approach has resulted in passing on the expertise so that other organisations can deliver this proven life-saving method of saving lives.   

As an expectant mum, with an excited toddler eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new baby, I am more mindful than ever before of the fortunate position I am in, living in the UK with access to great healthcare and lots of support. However, as many of us are acutely aware, with the MDG’s well and truly behind us now, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that this is the experience of all women and their babies across the world. 

How many women have the choice about when to start having children, how many children to have and how far apart to space them? Or access to antenatal care and a skilled birth attendant to ensure a safe birth? And what about healthcare facilities for those requiring medical assistance? And vital support in the early days of motherhood?

Since 2002, Women and Children First have been working in some of the poorest countries of the world to empower women, using Women’s Groups - a powerful, low cost, participatory community mobilisation approach. Rather than being a ‘top down’ approach, Women’s Groups seek to empower women to find long lasting approaches to their individual communities’ maternal and newborn health issues. The women identify local strategies to address these problems, take action on the local strategies and evaluate their impact. Throughout the life cycle of the groups, based on their interests, women prioritize and discuss different topics on infant and maternal health. In order to capture the interest of the group and communicate effectively, storytelling, role plays, the use of picture cards and song and dance are often used.

Women and Children First is delighted to be taking part in this exciting conference being held in Copenhagen from 16 – 19 May.  This is the fourth Women Deliver - the largest global conference on the health, rights and well being of women and girls in the last decade - and Women and Children First has played an active part in them all.

The focus of the 2016 conference is how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) so they matter most for girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment.

Women and Children First’s work is making a contribution to two of the SDGS:  Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages, and Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, so we are looking forward to sharing what we do with other participants, and hearing what they are doing towards achieving these goals.  With over 5,000 attendees from 2,000 organisations in over 150 countries at the conference there will be lots of opportunity for interaction!

Anyone can follow the action through Women Deliver Live


Women and Children First is pleased to note that The Lancet has launched a new series of papers which highlight the issue of preventable stillbirths.

An estimated 2.6 million stillbirths still happen annually. 98% of these occur in low and middle-income countries and 75% are in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.  About 60% occur in rural areas and more than half in conflict and emergency zones, affecting the families who have least access to health-care.  Half of all the stillbirths (1.3 million) occur during labour and birth.  Some of these are due to congenital disorders, but the majority are due to preventable causes such as maternal infections and obstetric complications.

In 2014, the World Health Assembly endorsed a target of 12 or fewer stillbirths per 1000 births in every country by 2030. By 2015, 94 mainly high and middle-income countries had already met this target, although with noticeable disparities within countries, but at least 56 countries, particularly in Africa and in conflict-affected areas, will have to at least double their pace of progress to reach this target. 

At present rates of progress, more than 160 years will pass before a pregnant woman in Africa has the same chance of her baby being born alive as a woman in a high-income country today.