African Leaders Set to Take Major Decisions to Stem Maternal Death

24 July 2010
Author: UNFPA

KAMPALA, Uganda – African leaders began arriving the Ugandan capital yesterday for Sunday’s opening of the 15th Summit Meeting of the African Union Heads of State and Government that is set to take far-reaching decisions to tackle maternal and child health problems in Africa.

A resolution on the issue received the blessings of the African Union Executive Council (Conference of Foreign Ministers) yesterday after two days of deliberations, thus clearing the way for adoption by Heads of State when they meet here from 25 to 27 July. It will be the first time that African leaders will make maternal and child health the theme of their Summit, indicating the priority they are according the issue.

With only five years left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, an unacceptable number of women still die in Africa in pregnancy and childbirth each year. For every woman who dies, at least 20 others suffer injuries and disabilities, like obstetric fistula. Almost all maternal deaths are preventable. In Africa, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age.

The AU Summit comes three months after the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, announced the development of a Joint Action Plan to intensify the global effort to improve the health of women and children. The Action Plan will be launched at next September's MDG Summit at the United Nations, New York. UNFPA and other UN agencies are very much engaged in the development of the plan. UN Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, who will address the African Union Summit, says that the Joint Action Plan relies on collaboration and optimal contributions from all stakeholders. The Joint Action Plan also proposes accountability to ensure that commitments are delivered.

Coming on the heels of the of last month’s Muskoka G-8 Summit and the G-20 Conference in Huntsville (Toronto, Canada), the AU Summit will also be held at a time when expectations are high on the determination of the international community to focus on the persistent problem of maternal and child health in Africa – core issues in the MDGs. Maternal death represents one of the greatest health disparities between rich and poor countries and between the rich and poor within countries. The risk of a woman dying in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 22, as compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions.

Efforts by governments under the auspices of the African Union culminated in adoption of the Maputo Plan of Action for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Africa in 2006. It is significant that, as a direct result of the Plan, governments have readily showed greater political will to address maternal health issues; there has been increased advocacy and social mobilization work; policy environment, including adequate budget and integrated health plans, have been instituted in some countries, while in others substantial resources have been mobilized and the process of social and economic empowerment of women has received greater support.

End of business as usual

In another development, the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, Bience Gawanas, has said that the choice by African leaders to devote this year’s Summit to Maternal, Infant and Child Health for Development in Africa “signals the end of business-as-usual by all the stakeholders in the process, including development partners”.

“The time has come for African governments, Regional Economic Communities as well as development partners to stop pushing segmented agendas and approach the issue of maternal and neonatal deaths in Africa as a whole,” Ms. Gawanas told the media on the eve of the Summit.

Tracing how the Maternal and Child Health issue went through the Permanent Representative Council (Ambassadors) through the Conference of Ministers onto the Summit agenda, Ms. Gawanas, recalled the lively debates that initial discussions on women’s sexuality and child birth had generated at successive meetings of the Permanent Representative Council. This followed the adoption of the Maputo Plan of Action (MPOA) on the Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Africa in 2005, and "in this regard, I would like to commend the tenacity of Mozambique, the country that eventually tabled the motion on the Summit theme,” she said.

Ms. Gawanas cited the UNFPA-supported Campaign to Accelerate Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), as an example of what concerted efforts can achieve within a short period of time. “The campaign has already been launched in 18 African countries and is moving well despite the fact that it was initiated just a few months ago,” she explained.

African Youths Join the Debate

Earlier, some 100 young people from 40 African countries ended the first African Youth Forum (AYF) here yesterday with a strong commitment by participants to “live and promote accountable, responsible and healthy lifestyles through peer-to-peer mentoring and youth-adult partnership in our families and communities”. The youth forum, the first of its kind, sought to position African youth as critical players in the continent’s development and to influence the highest level of decision makers, by committing to monitor and track progress on the implementation of the health provisions of the African Youth Charter and the Maputo Plan of Action, especially as they affect young people.

One Nigerian youth who attended the Forum said he would declare a state of emergency on mother and child deaths, if he ever became the president of his country. Ahmed Yusuf, 21, said that he would make sure immediate measures were adopted and implemented at all levels of the health pyramid.

The African Youth Forum (AYF) was convened to provide a platform for discussion and recommendations from youth delegates on how maternal, infant and child health affect development in Africa. UNFPA provided support for the formulation of the African Youth Charter that was adopted by African leaders in one of their Summits. Recommendations have been submitted to the forthcoming AU Heads of State Summit.

Although the forum is not part of the Summit, its commitments and recommendations, (Call to Action Statement) will be tabled at the Heads of State Summit and could mark the entry point of African youths into African Union activities at summit level.
For that, they have strong support from Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who on 16 July told the opening session of the Forum that African youths should use their energy to address social and economic transformation because “social and economic transformation is the only way Africa can help its youth become successful”. At the end of the Forum, James Mbaaba, Minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office, echoed the same message when he said that high unemployment rates in Africa had created a situation where, in some countries, “only 20 per cent of the population is working to feed the other 80 per cent”. Mr. Mbaaba represented the Vice-President of Uganda at the closing ceremony.
Although the Forum took place in Uganda, the 103 youths at the event were joined online by 1,000 others from all over Africa, through live-streaming, online radio and social networking websites, such as Facebook. Minute-by-minute, delegates updated friends and colleagues, extending the reach of the Forum beyond those in Uganda.
For further information, please contact:
Aloysius E. Fomenky
 + 256753343011

Population : 45.7 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24

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