Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The new UN strategy to improve maternal health moves forward

During Millennium Development Goal summit last fall, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced a new initiative to improve maternal health. A woman's chance of living through a childbirth is actually pretty low in the under-developed world, as low as a one in 21 chance for some countries. This initiative actually has some political will and momentum, the first meetings for the committee will take place during the upcoming World Economic Forum

From the Guardian, World Vision's Kate Eardley talks about the new U.N. program and the improvements that need to be made for women around the world.

The launch in September of the UN secretary general's Strategy for women's and children's health has been met with great excitement by those who want to see a drop in the number of deaths. The report comes with the promise of saving the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. But there is some anxiety about how this will be achieved.

What makes this strategy stand out from previous initiatives is the high level of political will it has garnered. It has received significant commitments from traditional donors, including countries of the G8, but, crucially, a large number of governments from developing countries also made major policy and financial pledges. Afghanistan committed to triple public spending on health and increase the percentage of women giving birth with a skilled health worker, while Niger pledged to introduce legislation to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 and increase female literacy.

So how do we move from promise to delivery; from commitments to lives saved? This week marks a critical milestone as the WHO announces a timeline for progress. Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, will appoint the prime minister of Canada and the president of Tanzania as co-chairs of a group of 25 global leaders who will champion maternal and child health - the commission on accountability and information. This group will be tasked with mapping out how to turn the promises made in September into action in rural communities and slums in the poorest countries. It will have its first meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos early next year, before making a final report to the UN general assembly in September 2011.

In Sierra Leone, where childbirth survival rates are some of the lowest in the world, the government has made its own commitments to the global strategy, pledging to "increase access to health facilities for pregnant women, newborns and children under five through the removal of user fees". An estimated 4 billion people living in developing countries have to borrow money or sell assets so they can access healthcare for themselves or their families.

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