United Nations – Today, world leaders and international health experts agreed to an urgent action plan to save the lives of millions of mothers and newborns at a luncheon hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Foreign Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre. The plan comes as the global economic crisis – having previously affected mainly rich countries – is plunging millions more of the world’s most vulnerable people into extreme poverty.
The comprehensive plan is set out in the 2009 report of the Global Campaign for the Health Millennium Development Goals: Leading by Example – Protecting the Most Vulnerable During the Economic Crisis. This report was produced by the office of the Prime Minister of Norway in close collaboration with the Network of Global Leaders, high level representatives of UN agencies and funds. It focuses on the effect of the crisis on women and children, and on what countries and agencies are doing to protect them.
As Mr. Ban said in his opening statement: "Health is the tie that binds all of the Millennium Development Goals together. If we fail to meet our targets on health, we will never overcome poverty, illiteracy, achieve universal education and meet the other MDG challenges… We must use maternal health as a lens through which we decide and act on global health policies. We must hold ourselves accountable to a rapid acceleration in progress on MDG 5 over the next five years."
The new Maternal and Newborn Health Consensus
The plan reflects a new Consensus on the priorities for Maternal and Newborn Health. It draws on lessons from previous economic crises to recommend urgent policy directions that are needed to get MDGs 4&5 (which focus on children and mothers) back on track. The MNH Consensus is underpinned by the concept of the 'continuum of care', which should extend across adolescence, pregnancy, childbirth and childhood for every woman and child.
The Foreign Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, says: "Important progress has been made to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and childhood diseases. However, efforts to reduce maternal and newborn deaths through the MDGs have so far failed miserably. To make significant strides towards the MDGs by 2015, we all need to invest more, work more closely together and secure systems that deliver on our commitments."
The report recommends concentrating on 49 Low Income Countries where the majority of maternal and child deaths occur, and supports the High Level Task Force on Innovative International Financing for Health Systems (HLTF) established in New York on 25 September 2008. Its aim is to produce strategies to fill national financing gaps to reach the health MDGs and saving six million mothers and newborns through mobilizing additional resources for health systems, increasing the financial efficiency of health financing, and enhancing the effective use of funds.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK writes in the report: "We are committed to ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every newborn is healthy and every child has the opportunity to prosper and reach their full potential."
Investments and New Financing Mechanisms
The HLTF has estimated the costs of scaling up health services, over and above what is currently spent in 49 low-income countries, to be US$36-45 billion in 2015 (cumulatively US$114-251 billion from 2009 to 2015). The estimated cumulative program cost for maternal and newborn health services is US$5.3-11.8 billion from 2009 to 2015, while for family planning it is US$2.9-8.4 billion.
This financing could become a reality through mechanisms such as solidarity levies on airline tickets, currency transfers and tobacco tax, along with frontloading investments, private giving campaigns, DeTax and private sector investments. It is hoped that the G8 meeting in July will further close the funding gap.
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