CAPE TOWN, South Africa– On April 19, new measurement tools, firmer costing figures and hopes of major donor action for the G8 meeting this July wrapped up the Countdown to 2015 conference on accelerating progress toward better health for mothers, newborns and children worldwide.
More than 450 participants ended their three-day gathering with a united warning that significant increases in spending to improve national health systems are urgently needed if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to maternal and child health are to be met by the 2015 deadline.
"This is a global call to the overall improvement of health status of women and children of the world," said South Africa’s Minister of Health, Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang.
"If funds and energy are invested now in the strategies and services that we know will work to prevent the deaths of women, children and newborns, then the health MDGs can be met," said Ann Starrs, president of Family Care International and co-chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which organized the conference. "The Countdown has laid out a road map, and it is up to donors, governments and their development partners to make the changes that have to happen."
During the conference, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health called on leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized countries (G8) to "show the way in confronting this health crisis" during their July summit in Japan by fulfilling earlier commitments and making new ones for long-term, predictable funding.
The statement called for an additional US$10.2 billion investment per year to ensure universal provision of proven, effective health interventions in the 68 countries where 97 percent of maternal and newborn deaths occur. The necessary services include reproductive health care, skilled attendance during childbirth and access to emergency care for mothers and newborns with complications, as well as a range of interventions for preventing and treating childhood illnesses.
"The world is expecting G8 leaders to show the way," said Jeffrey Mecaskey of the Save the Children Alliance. "It's simply a question of making the right political choices."
Those in attendance at the conference included maternal and child health advocates, health care experts and delegations from 61 of the 68 high-burden countries, including more than 20 parliamentarians and 15 Ministers of Health. "Nigeria and other African nations are making genuine political commitments to reduce maternal and child mortality, but we face substantial challenges and competing priorities," said Saudatu Sani, a member of the Nigerian parliament.
Such challenges were the subject of parallel sessions, panel discussions and debates at the conference, which centered on the 2008 report Countdown to 2015: Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival, a collaborative effort by United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and independent researchers. The study assessed progress since 2005 in the 68 high-risk countries and found that most were not on track to meet the MDG goals of cutting maternal deaths by 75 percent and halving child deaths by 2015.
Participants agreed that the Countdown indicators have become a critical and common ground of understanding in global efforts to achieve the MDGs. The indicators spotlight areas of need and attention for specific health interventions like immunization, contraceptive use and the rate of Caesarean sections, as well as for relevant policy indicators such as the density of health workers per person, per-capita spending on health, and whether midwives are authorized to perform specific life-saving techniques.
In their joint statement, participants vowed to integrate work addressing under-nutrition with broader strategies to improve maternal and child health. They also pledged support for programs to end child marriage and keep adolescent girls in school and to address inequalities in care among different age, gender, socioeconomic and geographic groups.
Parliamentarians attending the 118th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union here took part in joint sessions with the Countdown conference and committed themselves to greater action on behalf of mothers, newborns and children. They also agreed to review progress at their next session in 2009.
"You have the power to legislate," Dr. Francisco Songane, head of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, told them. "We ask you to oversee and monitor what the governments are delivering…allocate money where the difference will be felt most."