Dispatch

16 June 2009

Prescription for Global Health in the Face of Crisis: Invest in Women

 

UNITED NATIONS — In his opening address to his Forum on Advancing Global Health in the Face of Crisis, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called attention to the links between health and all of the Millennium Development Goals. Healthy people, he told senior government officials and international experts, are more productive, take fewer days off work, have lower birth rates and thus invest more in fewer children.

“Health is the tie that binds all of the Millennium Development Goals together,” said Mr. Ban. “If we fail to meet our targets on health, we will never overcome poverty, illiteracy, achieve universal education and meet the other MDG challenges. I am most troubled by the costs of failed maternal and child health. The global impact of maternal and newborn deaths has been estimated at $15 billion a year in lost productivity.

“Birth, which should always be cause for celebration,” he continued, “too often brings mourning when mothers and their newborns die from a lack of adequate care. And when I say too often, I mean once every minute. Once every minute!”

 
UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya A. Obaid.
Photo: Devra Berkowitz

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya A. Obaid echoed these concerns in her answers to a question posed in the first panel discussion of the forum, entitled, Protecting Vulnerable Populations, which focused especially maternal and newborn health.

“We know that MDG 5 to improve maternal health is the goal lagging the furthest behind,” said Ms. Obaid. “And we know that it is recognized to be at the heart of the MDGs. If we don’t reduce the needless deaths of women and guarantee access to reproductive health, we will not achieve the other MDGs.” She outlined three steps for moving forward:

Make the health and well-being of women in the developing world a political and financial priority. “We need to keep our commitment to make universal access to reproductive health by 2015 a reality.”

Focus our efforts on the most challenging situations. Ms. Obaid mentioned the need to pay special attention to countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality, to vulnerable groups such as indigenous populations, slum dwellers, young people and countries affected by conflict.

Strengthen health systems so they can deliver to women. “We need to provide a continuum of health care that extends across adolescence, pregnancy, childbirth and childhood,” she said, pointing to the need to support evidence-based interventions including voluntary family planning, skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric and newborn care.

The 2009 report of the Global Campaign of the Health MDGs was unveiled at a luncheon following the panel, hosted by the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre. The report highlights that recent actions from governments, international agencies and civil society have started to show positive impact on the health of mothers and children. This has given hope for accelerating progress toward reducing maternal and child mortality. However, this progress is now threatened by the global economic crisis, especially in low-income countries.

According to the report, more money is needed to accelerate the progress towards the health goals and more specifically to save millions of mothers and their newborn babies.