UN Secretary-General, UNFPA Call for Accelerated Action to Prevent Women and Girls from Dying Unnecessarily

(L-R) Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Ray Chambers, Ban Ki-moon, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, Anuradha Gupta <i>Photo &copy; Ilona Lalova/UNFPA</i>
  • 23 September 2013

UNITED NATIONS, New York – As world leaders converge in New York for the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, UNFPA convened a High-level Forum to address what needs to be done to scale up action towards the achievement of MDG5 – improve maternal health.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin were joined by the Ministers of Health of Ethiopia, Nigeria, and India, as well as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals and for Malaria, Ray Chambers.

Together they saluted the significant progress that has been made since 2000 in reducing maternal deaths. However, advancements have been insufficient to achieve MDG5 globally and scaled up action is vital to prevent an additional 120,000 girls and women from dying unnecessarily by the 2015 MDG target date.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for intensifying efforts to improve to health of women and girls. Photo © Omar Kasrawi/UNFPA

“Today we can decide to invest in women’s health and human rights to achieve MDG5. It is still possible to achieve this goal in the remaining 829 days before the MDG deadline,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “With the right investments, we can make a huge difference in the lives of every woman and every child.”

We know what needs to be done

“The good news is that we know what to do. We know where these women and girls are and we know how to prevent their deaths," said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in his opening statement.

Just 10 countries account for more than 60 per cent of all maternal deaths worldwide and four conditions are responsible for 70 per cent of all maternal deaths.

“It is about making sure that we can reduce maternal deaths through the reduction of bleeding, infections and blood pressure,” explained Dr. Osotimehin, adding that the fourth leading cause of maternal death, unsafe abortion, could be almost eliminated if women had access to family planning universally.

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for almost 90% of maternal deaths. (Click on image for larger view)

Dr. Osotimehin emphasized that by strengthening health systems and supporting health workers with midwifery skills to deliver essential maternal and newborn care, it is possible to reduce the deaths and injuries that for too long have been accepted as the price for childbearing.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed this view: “We do not need new science or better technology to make a significant difference,” he said. “Achieving MDG 5 is not expensive… but it requires far more resources than are currently available. It’s one of the best investments we can make.”

According to a new UNFPA analysis, the total cost of drugs and health supplies to prevent maternal deaths and childbirth complications is estimated at around $650 million over the next two years. Further investments would be needed, since these drugs and health supplies must be available 24/7 and administered by skilled health workers, including midwives.

New products add to a positive development in this field and have also been identified by the Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. For example, contraceptive implants are better formulated now than in the past and are cheaper; a drug like Misoprostol, which was recently been added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medicines, is key in the prevention and treatment of post-partum bleeding.

Family planning central to achieving MDG5

Panellists at the United Nations today also stressed the importance of ensuring the broadest possible access to family planning. When women and girls are given the means to prevent unwanted pregnancies and space births, maternal and child deaths can be significantly reduced.

During the Forum discussion, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin stressed the importance of family planning by noting that MDG5 target A [Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio] cannot be achieved without MDG5 target B [Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health].

Harnessing the power of the present

“Adolescent girls are not only the future, they are the present, and looking at maternal mortality figures around the world, they are the ones who suffer the most,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, echoing the voices of many participants who pressed for more action on access to information and services for adolescents and youth.

Looking forward, Dr. Osotimehin reiterated that it will be possible to achieve MDG5 on time by implementing strategic interventions and partnerships in key countries, making the most of innovations, monitoring and evaluating our work and ensuring equity and accountability. “We also need political will. Without it we are not going anywhere,” he said.

“If we are going to make any progress at all in the world, sustainability can only be built around people. And the most important people I know in the world are adolescent girls,” he concluded.

On the frontlines of MDG5

Health Ministers from key countries on the frontlines of the battle to improve maternal health joined the Forum to discuss the steps they are taking on the ground to accelerate progress on MDG5.

Underscoring the fact that Ethiopia has made reducing maternal mortality a top priority of the government, Health Minister Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu highlighted the country’s successful Community Health Extension programme which, combined with increased contraceptive use, serves as a best practice example for the first ever training of a workforce in Africa of this scale.

Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Onyebuchi Chuwu spoke of Nigeria’s investment in human resources for health, particularly in the training and deployment of midwives, as well as the country’s recently signed agreement with UNFPA to train Family Health Centres workers to deliver contraceptives at community level.

Anuradha Gupta, Additional Secretary at the Indian Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, spoke of the recently developed national adolescent health strategy. Given the large youth population in India and beyond, it is vital, she said, “to ensure that adolescents become an integral part of the reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health continuum.”

The theme of the Forum was in conjunction with the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent report A Life of Dignity for All, which calls upon the international community to do everything possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the end of 2015. The report points out that intensified efforts are needed to reach the most vulnerable women and children and ensure their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including full access to basic health services and sexual and reproductive education.

– Reported by Nicole Foster

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