The new United Nations initiative for global maternal, newborn and child health is a promising step toward reinvigorating progress, but neglects to adequately address some important action points, according to World Vision, the world's largest international humanitarian organisation focusing on the well-being of children.
Stopping parent-to-child transmission of HIV, providing universal access to treatment for all children and mothers who need it, and ensuring safe pregnancy and childbirth are all essential to improve overall health and survival, UN leaders and health experts emphasized this week at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna. World Vision also underscores the importance of strengthening family and community care, a cornerstone of successful public health interventions.
"This UN-led plan will help build on the progress made in reducing needless deaths of children and mothers so far, and we commend the leadership that has made this health catastrophe a priority," Stefan Germann, director of global HIV and health partnerships for World Vision International, said today at a panel discussion in Vienna with officials from UNAIDS, UNICEF and other groups.
"However, some critical gaps remain - particularly when it comes to ensuring that life-saving interventions make it the last mile to the people who most need them," said Germann.
The Joint Action Plan, first introduced in June, calls for all countries to revitalize efforts to meet Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 by further reducing preventable deaths of mothers and children worldwide. Millennium Development Goal 6, which includes reducing HIV and AIDS, calls for universal treatment access and a stop to new infections of children.
"To succeed in achieving these goals, health care options must be brought closer to households, and barriers to using these services must be reduced," said Germann. "Even the poorest countries can deliver on their pledges if supported with the right kind of technical expertise and appropriate levels of funding, as we've seen in several examples."
Wealthy countries must be held accountable to deliver on aid pledges they have already made and urged to ensure an additional US $42.5 billion in health investment by 2015. G8 and G20 leaders at last month's summits in Canada fell far short of this. Any global plan should also press mid- to low-income country governments to move toward dedicating 15 percent of their national budgets to health, as African countries pledged in the Abuja declaration, and include maternal and child health in their national poverty reduction strategies.
World Vision's own Child Health Now campaign, launched in November 2009, has recommitted the organisation to aligning its health work to prioritise maternal and child health, with US $1.5 billion over the next 5 years to help priority countries improve their health systems reaching the community and household level. World Vision responds to HIV and AIDS-related needs in nearly 60 countries.
"Children still lag far behind adults in access to HIV prevention and treatment, while many mothers face pregnancy and childbearing without access to ways to protect their babies from HIV, and we must close those gaps," said Germann.
"We have good technologies, good treatments," said Germann. "Getting those within a mile of people is easy, but to cover the 'last mile' is the hardest part. That is why we need to focus on strengthening community systems-local faith groups, churches and community health groups-anyone who is able to make sure that health care options reach those in need."
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