NEW YORK, February 13, 2007 – The pioneering Safe Motherhood Initiative (SMI) is 20 years old this month. The global movement of activists, researchers, health experts, development professionals and policy-makers began at a 1987 conference in Nairobi, Kenya, with the goal of cutting maternal deaths worldwide in half by 2000.
“We’re still working on it,” said Jill Sheffield, the SMI sparkplug who is founder and president of Family Care International, which served as SMI secretariat from 1987 through 2004. “Now at least we know what to do to save women’s lives.”
The Initiative sent researchers into the field worldwide and generated scores of studies, reports, publications, fact sheets, and national and regional conferences. It raised awareness about safe motherhood, defined goals and priorities for action, mobilized resources and shared information.
But one woman still dies every minute somewhere from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – more than 530,000 needless deaths per year. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, called the toll “unacceptable” and said the SMI’s 20th anniversary “should serve as a loud wake-up call” for government and public action. “No woman should die giving life,” she said.
Sheffield agreed, adding that the deaths result from insufficient investment in the sexual and reproductive health needs of girls and women, and donors and governments that lack political will to take the necessary action.
To try to change that, Sheffield has enlisted other activists, global health organizations and non-governmental groups to craft a common agenda for action at an international conference in London next fall. The October 18-20 gathering, called WOMEN DELIVER, will seek to put the world spotlight on safe motherhood by uniting the various communities whose goals depend on women’s advancement: international development and poverty reduction, slowing population growth, promoting women’s equality, children’s well-being, and global health, and combating HIV/AIDS. The conference by-line is ‘Invest In Women – It Pays!'
“Women’s right to safe pregnancy and motherhood is the single factor common to all their goals,” Sheffield said. “It’s time to drive the point home again.”