United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s presentation of the Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health marked a dramatic culmination of the three-day Millennium Development Goals summit, an event that, he said, “we have been building towards…for more than a year, and in some ways, for decades.”
More than 100 people were left outside of the ECOSOC chamber in the U.N. headquarters’ North Lawn Building on Sept. 22, as 16 countries, foundations and private corporations convened under dimmed blue lights to pledge their own commitments that comprise the country-level aspect of the global strategy.
The strategy, first unveiled as a draft in June, is designed to propel progress toward the three health-related MDGs, on curbing child mortality, improving maternal health, and addressing AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, explained Purmina Mane, deputy executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. It identifies the financial and policy changes needed to achieve these goals, allowing recipient, developing countries to interpret the strategy in their own manner and work it into their own national health systems.
“This Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health provides a clear roadmap for making a fundamental difference in millions of lives,” Ban said. “Piecemeal approaches yield piecemeal results. We need broad partnership.”
The strategy has already fostered a new alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced that they will work together to help 100 million more women “satisfy their need for modern family planning” by 2015.
The USD40 billion that the strategy won – some of which was committed during the past few days, but a bulk of which was already pledged in prior months, at the G-8 summit and Women Deliver conference, among other gatherings – will likely spur new alliances between civil society, the private sector, and both developing and the most developed nations.
Many announcements, such as increasing health budgets by at least 15 percent (Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe all signed off on this) and upping the number of midwives and skilled birth attendants (Niger, Nepal and Liberia checked this off), overlap. Other common trends include providing free health care to pregnant women, or freeing up access for women living with HIV/AIDS. They all reveal an energized, unified commitment to work toward an integrated package of health care services that are needed to push women and children’s health MDGs forward and toward achievement.
Research and experience have informed the international community on what needs to be done to prevent the “needless” deaths of millions of mothers and children, but these methods cannot be applied without financial and political commitment from donor and recipient governments, U.N. health experts and civil society representatives said earlier in the day in a panel on maternal and child health.
The U.N. Foundation-sponsored panel was held at the sidelines of the summit; the host of the event later pledged it would commit USD400 million to the strategy.
In face of the financial and policy commitments made at the launch, Elizabeth Mason, director of the child and adolescent health and development department of the World Health Organization, emphasized the importance of accountability. Mason said WHO would bring to the country level an existing international mechanism that tracks progress toward the health-related MDGs.
Bringing the mechanism, called Countdown to 2015: Maternal, Child and Newborn Survival, to countries will allow local governments and civil society to track commitments on a regular basis, she said.
Mane said a major task of U.N. agencies under the new strategy is to build political support. UNFPA has started using its global reach to make sure countries understand the strategy and are able to participate in it, she explained, adding that a total of 26 developing countries have made “strong political and practical commitments” to the strategy.
Sue Mbaya, director of World Vision’s Advocacy & Justice for Children in Africa program, also stressed the importance of political commitments, especially in supporting the most vulnerable groups of women and girls at the community and family levels. Donor and recipient governments should make sure that there are enough resources for the delivery of maternal health services at the community level as well as coordinate in developing “enabling policies” needed to achieve MDGs 4 and 5.
“We need political commitment to be able to implement what we know is working,” a UNFPA official shared.
Just old promises, says Oxfam
For Oxfam, much of the funding commitments were a rehash of earlier pledges.
“Looking at the numbers so far, it’s clear that rich countries are putting old promises with a seemingly big price tag in a new shiny UN wrapper, rather than announcing anything new for the world’s poorest people,” said Emma Seery, spokesperson for Oxfam, in a statement, adding that almost half of the money was pledged in the G-8 summit in June.
“At a crucial turning point for the MDGs, we can’t be distracted by a big figure, and we need details now on where countries are going to find this money and how they will spend it to save lives,” she said.
Amy Lieberman is an award-winning journalist based in New York City. Her coverage on politics, social justice issues, development and climate change has appeared in a variety of international news outlets, including The Guardian, Slate and The Atlantic. She has reported from the U.N. Headquarters, in addition to nine countries outside of the U.S. Amy received her master of arts degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in May 2014. Last year she completed a yearlong fellowship on the oil industry and climate change and co-published her findings with a team in the Los Angeles Times.
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