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Maternal and child health

How we are helping

Smiling woman holding young girl 

Da Nge with her daughter Lin Kheong Kem, Cambodia. Australia, through the aid program, invests in the health and wellbeing of women and children because good health is a fundamental human right. Photo: Cathy Reid/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australian aid helps developing countries to provide life-saving health care to women and children throughout Asia, the Pacific and some countries in Africa (see map). Women, adolescent girls and children are supported throughout the cycle of pregnancy and birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Australian investments focus on proven interventions that deliver strong results and value for money including:

  • expanding access to family planning and vaccination services
  • increasing access to health services for women and children
  • increasing the number of skilled health workers (including midwives)
  • treatment and prevention of common childhood illnesses.

It takes a strong health system to consistently deliver quality health services, save lives and keep women and children well. Australia aims to help ensure that health services are adequately financed, have drugs and staff available, are delivered in appropriate clinics and hospitals—and are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Publication: Saving lives – Australia’s aid to women and children

How we give aid

Australia works with partner governments, research institutes and development partners to deliver on our maternal and child health commitments. Australia provides support for:

  • global programs and organisations that deliver essential health services and promote women’s and children’s health (such as the GAVI Alliance, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and  the International Planned Parenthood Federation)
  • bilateral and regional programs to strengthen the health systems of priority countries, particularly in Asia and the Pacific—a region which bears around 40 per cent of the global burden of maternal and child mortality
  • targeted programs on nutrition, family planning, immunisation and health education delivered by civil society organisations
  • innovative research into maternal and child health - to provide evidence on which to base our investment decisions, and help governments and policy makers understand what works and why.

Why we give aid

While there has been a 47 per cent reduction in maternal deaths since 1990, around 287,000 women and girls die each year from largely preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. An estimated six million children also die annually, including three million newborn babies.

Australia, through the aid program, invests in the health and wellbeing of women and children because good health is a fundamental human right. In addition, investing in women’s and children’s health saves lives, saves money, increases productivity, and promotes social stability.

Poor health traps women and their families in a cycle of poverty. Health care costs can be extremely high—many families fall into poverty as a result of poor health. This, in turn can leave women and children vulnerable to death and disease.

Australia is committed to assisting countries, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Australia recognises that investing in health care for women and children supports achievement of all the MDGs, not just those related to health.

Australia—an international leader on maternal and child health

Australia is part of a leading group of institutions and donors working on maternal and child health. Australia works closely with USAID [external website], the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID [external website]) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [external website] through the Alliance for Reproductive, Maternal and Newborn Health [external website] (the Alliance). The Alliance supports joint advocacy, learning and coordination on maternal and child health at country and global levels. It has published reports on its progress for 2011 and 2012. Australia also provides support for, and sits on the board of, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health [external website] (PMNCH)—a network of over 500 members working together to  ensure that all women, infants and children are healthy and thrive.


heading foldPNG case study

PNG has the highest maternal mortality in the Pacific—a woman in PNG is 80 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Australia. A major barrier to a safe birth in PNG is the lack of midwives—PNG has just 152 practicing midwives for approximately 220,000 births a year. 

To address this problem, Australia is providing scholarships to train 500 Papua New Guinean nurses in midwifery. These midwives will help achieve the target of increasing the number of births supervised by a skilled birth attendant by 8,000 a year by 2015. Australia is also refurbishing the four current PNG midwifery schools and building a fifth in East New Britain Province, which will be completed by December 2012.

Eight experienced midwifery clinical facilitators at all four of PNG’s midwifery schools are also being supported to improve the quality of education for midwives. This support has directly contributed to the graduation of 49 midwifery students in 2011, compared to 2010 where there was no intake.

One student said: ‘Before the training, I could be in the same room as a mother experiencing a life-threatening birth and I wouldn’t know what to do. I had no supervision and the mother would die in front of me. Now I have learnt to save mother and child, and I can pass my knowledge and skills onto others.’


Australian aid focus countries for maternal and child health

Map showing countries where maternal and child health is a focus for Australian aid

View a larger map

Australian aid focus countries for maternal and child health are:


  • Fiji
  • Nauru
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tonga
  • Vanuatu

East Asia

  • Cambodia
  • Myanmar
  • Indonesia
  • Timor-Leste

South and West Asia

  • Bangladesh
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan


  • Ethiopia
  • South Sudan

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2013