Forging new partnerships for the future of women, children and adolescents

By Flavia Bustreo, Jane Thomason 13 November 2015

Peng Liyuan, first lady of the People’s Republic of China, receives her copy of a new “Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health,” launched at the Every Woman Every Child event. Photo by: Mark Garten / United Nations

As we get closer to the end of 2015, I think back to the end of September in New York and the buzz around the new, bold development agenda. At the United Nations General Assembly,193 governments adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals that will transform the world we live in.

As advocates for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, it was a bittersweet moment as we saw the sharp focus of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 fade, as maternal and child health are now part of a broader SDG 3 on health. We will need to work hard to ensure our priorities remain a top priority for countries, that investments and political will remain intact, or even better, improve. I am reminded of this now, as we are releasing the latest maternal mortality estimates for the MDG era to share the progress to date. And as we prepare to meet with partners and stakeholders to discuss the future of accountability for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.

In New York on Sept. 26, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we launched the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. The strategy is a new road map based on the best available evidence to ensure that all women, children and adolescents survive, thrive, and transform their societies for a healthy and sustainable future.

But the challenge is huge: with competition for resources greater than ever and at a time when there are more displaced people on the planet than ever before, the strategy aims to reach the most isolated and vulnerable and address inequity.

It was also in New York that we started to conclude the accountability work towards the recommendations of the time-bound Commission on Information and Accountability at an annual gathering of partners. This work has established accountability as a cornerstone of a new modus operandi to hold donors and stakeholders to task for their commitments.

Moving forward in the new, broad SDG era, we need to keep our focus and resolve to ensure that women’s children’s, and adolescents’ health remain at the center of the health and development agenda. For that, we need to continue the good work we have been doing.

But, as we prepare to face the challenges, there are a number of emerging priorities:

Resource mobilization

On Sept. 26, there was excitement around the announcement of $25 billion of commitments to the revised global strategy. However, we know that this is simply not enough. Mobilization of domestic and private financing will be critically important to achieve our goals and, in this, a new Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman Every Child will be key. The GFF paves the way for a new role for official development assistance in unlocking domestic resources and private flows to provide the platform for financing the new strategy.

Building coalitions and partnerships

We cannot rely on governments alone to accomplish our goals for women, children and adolescents. It will require new and multiple coalitions and partnerships between political leaders, governments, development partners, private sector actors, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations and communities.

We need a collaborative approach that brings together many elements, including economic growth, good governance, women’s empowerment, innovation and data. And most important, we need to reach out to partners who have not yet joined our coalition.

Innovation, social networks and entrepreneurship

The Internet has given information, voice and power to people. Through social media, video and new technologies, we have opportunities to strengthen the voice of marginalized people, especially those of women and the young. We need to draw on international experience and connect innovative ideas with the local private sector, encouraging social finance organizations to support innovation, entrepreneurship and action for pressing development challenges for women, children and adolescents.

Accountability to the people — pushing the boundaries

Here, we need three things:

1. A concerted focus on helping countries to improve availability and quality of data.

This week, with the release of the latest estimates of maternal mortality rates, we are seeing just how important the data quality is. We need to move from estimations to real numbers. For this, we need to continue striving for investments in civil registration and vital statistics systems that give us the exact picture of the numbers — as well as on the systems that look at causes of death, for accurate records and also accurate measures to address the issues.

2. A focus on action, not monitoring. 

Accountability does not stop at looking at the picture, accountability goes on to point at how we can take the necessary actions to redress the shortcomings — or what we call “remedial action.”

3. A need for independent accountability.

We need to resource and mandate somebody to hold us to account. All of us — whatever our role — have a responsibility and we need to be prepared to hear how we can do better than we currently are. Someone needs to do it.

All these things will be discussed with our stakeholders on Nov. 16-17 in Geneva, Switzerland. I look forward to these discussions and to the challenges we will face as we establish the pillars of an accountability mechanism fit for purpose, which serves the best interests of our children, women and adolescents.

To read additional content on global health, go to Focus On: Global Health in partnership with Johnson & Johnson.

About the authors

Flavia bustreo
Flavia Bustreo

Dr. Flavia Bustreo is the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, women's and children's health, and vice chair of the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Previously, she served as the executive director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Her responsibilities include the oversight of WHO’s work on immunization, reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health, social and environmental determinants of health, gender, equity and human rights and aging.


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Jane Thomason

Jane Thomason is the chief executive officer of Abt Associates Australia, senior adviser for international social policy at Abt Associates and a member of the Devex Impact Strategic Advisory Council. She has worked extensively in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, Mongolia and the Philippines and has held executive roles in health and development in Australia and internationally.


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