By Njeri Mwangi-Kinyoho, East Africa regional advisor, Advocacy and Justice for Children - World Vision International; originally posted at Daily Monitor (Uganda)
The 15th Ordinary Session of the Summit of the Africa Union will be taking place in Kampala, Uganda between July 19 – 27, 2010. The theme of the Summit is “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”. Unsurprisingly, this theme is the same as that of the just concluded G8/20 Summit in Canada whose outcomes fell well below the expectations of developing countries in terms of commitment on increased aid particularly in the areas of maternal, newborn and child health.
The G8 made a paltry $5 billion commitment against a call of $24 billion to tackle maternal and child health. The heads of state and government from Africa will be meeting against a background of a bleak and disturbing scenario where most African governments have not made much progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 (reducing child mortality under the age of 5 years by 2/3 by 2015), and 5 (reducing maternal mortality ratio by 3/4 by 2015).
In fact, these are the two goals that have been considered as being most off-track compared to the rest of the goals. Furthermore, African governments have not yet fully implemented the commitments that these same leaders made through the Abuja and Maputo Declarations, which call upon them to commit 15 per cent and 10 per cent of their national budgets to health and agriculture respectively.
Unless our African leaders clearly demonstrate their personal and political commitment to ensuring maternal and child health, the continent’s future is greatly jeopardised. It is unacceptable that in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, 1,500 women die every day from pregnancy-related complications or during childbirth, according to WHO. Additionally, 4.5 million children die before the age of five from preventable diseases, such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and malnutrition each year.
Other challenges such as poor infrastructure, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, low levels of resource allocation and absorption by line ministries, lack of a clear participatory monitoring and evaluation framework, loss of key health personnel such as qualified nurses and doctors through migration only aggravate this situation. This grim picture calls for a multi-stakeholder response and action. National governments, civil society, private sector and citizens have a legal, moral and social obligation and responsibility to ensure that the future of this continent is secured.
Towards this cause, World Vision has launched a five-year global campaign called the “Child Health Now Campaign”. This campaign, whose slogan is “Together we can end preventable deaths”, calls upon governments in both developing and developed countries to meet their commitments towards achieving MDG 4. The campaign aims at ensuring that mothers and children are well nourished, protected from infection and disease and have access to essential health care. Through this campaign, World Vision is calling upon global leaders, including our African heads of state and government, to ensure that they take the following steps to guarantee maternal and child health:
Firstly, they need to increase levels of funding for health so as to meet MDG 4. They need to improve health aid coordination, targeting and accountability; implement a global action plan for maternal and child health so these two are prioritised in each African country’s health plan by the end of 2011.
They need to fund the recruitment, training and sustainable employment of at least 2.5 front-line skilled health staff per 1,000 population, with a particular focus on midwives, and on effective health system management by 2012; provide free access at the point of care to essential health services for mothers and children and ensure that services are easily accessible regardless of their levels of income, geographic location or ethnicity; ensure that the social determinants of health such as poverty, gender, conflict, and the lack of access to essential services such as education, water and sanitation are taken into account in the implementation of maternal and child health strategies amongst others.
African governments should further ensure adequate food and nutrition security especially for poor and vulnerable communities. It is now common knowledge that poor nutrition is the biggest cause of ill-health and death and is particularly critical for pregnant women and for children in their first two years of life. While interventions to improve the nutritional status of women and children are a fundamental component of maternal and child health services, these need to be complemented by food security programmes that provide direct support to rural women and men to sustainably strengthen their livelihoods, to improve food and nutrition security, and to build their capacity to adapt to climate change.
The choice to achieve the MDG is purely political and our African leaders must take decisive action during this summit. Enough declarations have been made. Implementation at the national level remains a challenge. African governments must put in place the necessary structures and policy environment to deliver basic essential services to their citizens. It is therefore time our leaders moved from rhetoric and blue-sky sessions to real action otherwise, history will judge them harshly. After all, without a healthy population, there can never be any meaningful and sustainable development in Africa.
Ms Mwangi-Kinyoho is East Africa regional advisor, Advocacy and Justice for Children - World Vision International