Fresh perspectives on maternal, child and adolescent health

Young mothers and their children at a U.N. Development Program-sponsored health clinic in Myanmar. The youth must be included in conversations about reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.  Photo by: Tom Cheatham / UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s been just one month since I joined The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and already I’ve heard some remarkable stories. I’m just back from a major consultation in New Delhi — hosted by the government of India, with the Every Woman Every Child movement — where more than 200 experts from 30 countries came together to reflect on progress and consider the best approaches to steer us forward in the post-2015 environment.

Meeting up with all the partners, listening to their innovative ideas was truly inspiring. One private sector leader described a great initiative designed to deal with the perennial problem of supply chain bottlenecks in Nigeria. The company doubled pay to drivers who supplied contraceptives to pharmacies that had no stock-outs. Very rapidly, the out-of-stock rates dropped from 80 percent to 2 percent — and the drivers were seen stopping by pharmacies during weekends to check that shelves were full.

While this can be perceived as a classic private sector use of financial incentives, the driver clarified that it was not just the money that motivated him but a sense of pride in his community. He was the guy who made sure his community was healthy and safe.

This example reminded me why it is important for us to pull together. Governments play a central role, but we need to engage the private sector, civil society and others to get the results we want.

That’s why PMNCH is such an exciting mechanism, bringing together all of the sectors involved in maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. As we strive to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, and as we set out a new development agenda this year, I am reminded how important this partnership mechanism is to keep us united, focused and determined to act in alignment and speak with one voice.

That single voice represents many unmet needs, and in Delhi that voice spoke on behalf of those that face the harshest realities. In 2014, 80 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and of these, more than 75 percent were women and children, the majority deeply impoverished. Sixty percent of maternal deaths occur in humanitarian crisis settings — almost all are preventable. And just over half of under-5 child mortality occurs in regions marred by conflict, natural disaster and displacement camps.

These realities help us to focus, and move forward. We must work together to build a global health strategy for women, adolescents and children that supports countries to deliver results. We must ensure that we focus in the right place, where needs are most acute. Clearly humanitarian settings fall into that category.

In Delhi, we also heard that young people haven’t always received the services they need and aren’t involved in shaping their future. That has to change.

We cannot improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health without improving the health of young people and without including them in our conversations and in the development of our strategies. To do this we have to create an environment that empowers them to engage. We have a great opportunity to harness the energy and resourcefulness of youth, as the backbone of advocacy for women’s, children’s and adolescent health, and to demand their rights to health. Youths are currently leading Global Strategy 2.0 consultations, Web-based and in-person advocacy for RMNCAH, shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

Campaigns such as Youth Will are important in providing evidence and information on how to best leverage youth voices. We look forward to building from this work to further position youth not just as beneficiaries but as partners in economic empowerment, policy and programming.

Equity and human rights are fundamental to health and I am really excited to work with PMNCH, beyond health, intersecting with the other sectors that have a strong influence on health outcomes. We need to be fully engaged with communities and leaders working on education, water and sanitation, nutrition, and social protection communities — showing decision-makers that we must address all the issues across the continuum of people’s lives, and that health must remain at the center of the conversation.

PMNCH commitment to cross-sectoral collaboration can be seen through its attempts to engage as many partners as possible from nonhealth sectors in the Global Strategy 2.0 consultation.

PMNCH stands ready to continue to serve the movement, to make sure we align our efforts and maintain the momentum to meet the health needs and rights of every woman, every child, every adolescent, everywhere. PMNCH inspires consensus and aligns the efforts of partners from different sectors and constituencies toward improving women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.

The Global Strategy 2.0 is one important opportunity to align the RMNCAH community. Let’s all ensure that it has the vital input it needs to succeed.

Join the call to ensure reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health issues remain a priority in the next development goals by tweeting #EWECprogress and #Commit2Deliver.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Robin Gorna

    Robin Gorna is a writer, advocate, and strategist with a strong track record for leading effective action on AIDS and women's rights. She was the lead of SheDecides support team until March 2019 and formerly executive director for the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and the International AIDS Society.