CAPE TOWN, South Africa– New commitments for improving the health of mothers, newborns and children were expected at the opening here today of an international conference to track progress toward international goals for reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
The more than 450 participants included delegations from 61 of the 68 developing countries that account for 97 percent of maternal and child deaths worldwide. They planned to meet with representatives of donor nations, UN agencies and global health advocates to discuss the mixed findings of a new report entitled Countdown to 2015: Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival. Articles in a special issue of the medical journal The Lancet linked to the Countdown provide further analysis of the Countdown findings, also examining specific issues such as donor funding in greater depth.
The study and the Lancet special issue, a collaborative effort by United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and independent researchers, found that only 16 of the highest-burden countries are on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child death rates. Twelve countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made no progress or lost ground because of high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and armed conflict, it said.
While some countries have put elements in place that will allow future movement, maternal mortality rates remain high or very high in 56 countries, suggesting they are not on track to reach the MDG 5, which calls for cutting maternal deaths by three-quarters and ensuring access to reproductive health for all by the year 2015.
Dr. Francisco Songane, director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, told the opening session that the conference task was to translate the report's findings into action. "We must work with those who hold power in countries both rich and poor who have the courage to make the decisions to challenge the status quo," he said. "This is the beginning of a whole new collaboration to bring Countdown findings to the attention of policy- and decision-makers."
The study noted that overseas development aid from donor nations and agencies had risen significantly since the last assessment in 2003, but was still inadequate. It recommended that donors target their aid more to general strengthening of target countries’ health systems and less to specific health campaigns.
In their gathering at the Westin Grand Hotel here, which ends Saturday, the conference participants are expected to examine areas the report calls "missed opportunities" for increased investment that would help maternal and child survival: programs promoting family planning, skilled care during labor and delivery, better nutrition and clinical care for sick children. Other events include special sessions with parliamentarians and donor country representatives attending the 118th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Dr. Gertrude Mongella, president of the Pan-African Parliament, said in a speech yesterday that parliamentarians and governments must lead the way in saving the lives of women and children. "There are 45,000 parliamentarians globally," she said. "If we all beat that drum—for maternal, newborn and child survival—the budgets would change. The time is over for talking. We need action."
For more information:
Countdown to 2015 Maternal, Newborn, and Child Survival international conference being held in Cape Town, South Africa 17 – 19 April 2008.
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health
The Pan-African Parliament