NEW YORK — When a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth, a family is devastated and a community suffers an irreplaceable loss. And when her options are narrowed for lack of health, education or equity, her family, community and country suffer as well. This week, which marked the first anniversary of the UN Secretary-General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, world leaders took notice and took action.
What made this week different than many others in which policymakers and leaders get together to share experiences, strategize for better outcomes and reaffirm promises was the game-changing participation and commitment of new partners, including corporations, civil society and organizations from other sectors of development, to help countries build stronger health systems and save lives -- 16 million by 2015.
“When we deliver for every woman and every child, we will advance a better life for all people around the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at an event held at UN Headquarters on the margins of the 66th session of the General Assembly.
“One year ago, we launched the Every Woman Every Child initiative out of our conviction that in our time, it is wrong to allow women and children to die when we have the tools to save them,” said the Secretary-General.
“On that day, we said we would carry out commitments to improve women’s and children’s health. We said we would develop a framework to ensure accountability. We said we would work together to bring in new partners. I am happy to say today, one year later, we are delivering on all three fronts,” said Mr. Ban.
Below are highlights of some of the week’s main events:
Leaders and Health Ministers Strategize Ways to Improve Community-level Access to Maternal Health
The week kicked off behind the scenes, with a reminder that building – and meeting – significant financial and political commitments to women’s and children’s health takes leadership – by individual people.
Health ministers from several countries with high rates of maternal death gathered at the Greentree Foundation estate in Manhassat, New York, on Sunday. The ministers – from Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania (mainland and Zanzibar) – exchanged ideas and began taking steps to mobilize the financial, technical and human resources needed to put health services in communities where women and children need them.
Joining the conversation were Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA; Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS; Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women; high-level representatives of UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank; MDG Advocate and UN Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers; Adrienne Germain, the President Emerita of the International Women’s Health Coalition; and technical experts from the UN system, private sector and other development partners.
The Nigerian Minister of State for Health, Mohammed Ali Pate, called the meeting an important opportunity for countries to learn from each other.
“This is very useful because it’s also reinforcing the partnerships at the global level, but also at country level,” Pate explained. “No country will do this alone by itself. No individual sector or health professional group can do this by themselves. It will be in the hands of all of us coming together to save the lives of mothers, infants and children. And so a forum such as this one reinforces the centrality of the partnerships we have.”
Women’s Health: The Next Frontier in Non-Communicable Diseases
Partnerships across the entire health sector were also the focus of a special event on women’s health and non-communicable diseases. Coinciding with the first?ever UN High-level Meeting on NCDs, the panel discussion looked how the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases may be integrated into health programmes and policies to tackle the specific health needs of women, across their entire lifetime.
“Our efforts are targeted to improve the lives of women and young people, and we believe that unleashing their potential can bring vast benefits for all,” said Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA.
“How can we unleash this potential if we cannot protect them from communicable and non-communicable diseases by using every existing platform, every opportunity and working together across sectors to raise the resources available to address health challenges and avoid the silos in which we tend to work?” Mane continued.
Other members of the panel – which included representatives of the World Heart Federation, US National Cancer Advisory Board, GAVI Alliance, PATH, Women Deliver and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health – stressed the need to support governments in their health system priorities, including building stronger systems that integrate sexual and reproductive health, healthy lifestyle promotion, and the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases.
On behalf of UNFPA, Mane presented an award to Dr. Alexandre Padhila, the Brazilian Minister of Health, who accepted it on behalf of Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil. Rousseff, herself a cancer survivor, was recognized for her advocacy and leadership on addressing non-communicable diseases.
Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health
On Monday evening, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, joined former Irish President Mary Robinson and members of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health at the Rubin Museum in New York to urge world leaders to deliver on commitments to deliver voluntary family planning to the 215 million women worldwide who want but do not have access to it.
Robinson, chair of the Global Leaders Council, Dr. Osotimehin and other Council members shared personal stories about the inspiration behind their commitment to reproductive health and rights. Osotimehin recounted his recent visit to the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, where
adolescent girls lack access the security, basic education, and reproductive health care that would enable them to achieve their potential.
"Unprecedented action is required if we want to provide history's largest population of young people with the choices they need to shape a bright future – for themselves and their countries," Dr. Osotimehin said.
"I call on governments and world leaders to move from words to action, and to live up to their promise to ensure universal access to reproductive health, including voluntary family planning."
A Transformative Alliance: The Clinton Global Initiative
On Thursday, UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin participated in the Clinton Global Initiative panel on women and girls – what works, and what are the most pressing issues where efforts should be taken to scale.
Dr. Osotimehin shared success examples of HIV programming in different cultural contexts and highlighted the high returns of investing in girls’ education, including age-appropriate sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health, including access to voluntary family planning.
Gaining a round of applause, UNFPA Executive Director made a strong case for equity, calling development partners to direct investments to the most disadvantaged people in all societies. “Equity must be there, and ensure that you reach those girls who ordinarily would not have access to anything,” he stated.
Every Woman, Every Child
Finally, many of those governments and world leaders gathered on Tuesday at the United Nations to take stock of progress on those commitments, and of the on-going Every Woman Every Child effort in support of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
More than 60 countries have committed to intensify efforts to improve the health of women and children. Countries have committed to train and better support national health workforces to expand access to midwifery in communities; to improve the coverage of emergency obstetric care; and to improve child health through vaccination, nutrition and anti-malaria programmes. The Every Woman Every Child effort is also catalysing global partnerships to scale up access to family planning, which also reflect growing awareness about the implications that 215 million women in a world of 7 billion people who want to delay or avoid pregnancy, but do not have access to contraception.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a progress update, Saving the Lives of 16 Million which presented the findings of the Commission on Information and Accountability for women’s and children’s health, and several heads of state were recognized for eliminating policy roadblocks and taking concrete steps to meet their commitments. Highlights of the Every Woman Every Child initiative in the last year include major new commitments by the private sector and a strong focus on innovation.
New commitment announcements – including from 27 countries who made commitments in 2011 with the support of UNFPA, acting on behalf of the H4+ (short for Health 4, comprising UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank and UNAIDS) -- and recognition of progress continued into the evening, at a celebration hosted by MDG Advocate Ray Chambers. UNFPA, on behalf of the H4+, chaired a segment of the evening on maternal health, which included the announcement of the first-ever corporate partner to a joint H4+ programme. Johnson & Johnson has entered a four-year partnership with the H4+ that aims to help reduce maternal and infant mortality in Tanzania and Ethiopia by building health-care capacity and training skilled birth attendants.
“We responded to the Secretary General’s call for action because we aim to make a real and lasting difference for women and children in some of the most challenging areas of the world,” said Bill Weldon, Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO. “ This is the goal to which we are holding ourselves accountable.”
Listen to an interview about Every Woman, Every Child with Yves Bergevin, UNFPA Maternal Health Thematic Fund Coordinator
Read more coverage on UN News.