Remembering Jo Cox: A maternal health advocate extraordinaire

Jo Cox, a member of the British Parliament. Photo credit: Facebook

Jo Cox died Thursday from injuries sustained during an attack in her Yorkshire constituency. Cox was a mother of two and a member of the British Parliament. She was the former head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam, former director of the Maternal Mortality Campaign, and had advised and consulted Save the Children and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among many other positions. She was 41 years old.

Five years ago Devex named the 36-year old health campaigner to our list of 40 leaders under 40 years old who are influencing global development. We called Cox a “maternal health advocate extraordinaire,” and she told us how to make health care work better for “mums-to-be.”

Here is the short interview we conducted with Cox, upon naming her to our list of global development’s most promising young leaders.

This interview was posted by Eliza Villarino for Devex on October 12, 2011.

She is one campaigner extraordinaire. As director of the Global Campaign on Maternal Mortality, Jo Cox helped gather $40 billion in pledges for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s flagship maternal and child health initiative launched last year.

Cox is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London — and a young mother. She and her peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Cox about her leadership and vision for development cooperation in the years to come. Here’s what she said:

Now that maternal and child health is a global priority, what is the most important thing civil society can ask of world leaders?

I don’t think that maternal and child health is a global priority. The health and welfare of mothers and their children received unprecedented international attention in 2010, but not all governments were involved and other issues subsequently knocked this issue off the top slot. For those governments who did make specific policy and resource commitments, the role of civil society is to work hard to get them to deliver. However, to see a truly seismic shift in the life chances of mums-to-be and their babies, governments — rich and poor — must tackle inequality, especially gender but also income.

How do you hope to contribute in the coming years to finding integrated solutions to maternal and child health issues, as well as HIV, AIDS, food security and other related challenges?

Building an integrated, cost-effective, national health service that delivers quality care for all is one of the critical challenges facing anyone with a stake in global health. A mum doesn’t divide the health of her family up into different bits when she goes to a health clinic: “vaccines,” “malaria,” “HIV.” For her a health center is a health center and a nurse is a nurse. When she goes to get help, she should receive integrated care for all her family’s needs not just the one thing that center, or health practitioner, happens to know about. We need to assign inefficient, parallel health interventions to the rubbish bin.

What role should the global aid community play in support of sustainable health care systems in the developing world?

First and foremost, supporting health ministries to get their medium-term game plan right and secondly offering long-term, predictable finance where it’s needed to implement those plans.

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