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Osotimehin: Every Woman, Every Child

By: Babatunde Osotimehin; Originally posted on The Guardian - Nigeria

Dr. Osotimehin is a United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. He wrote this opinion in support of Every Woman Every Child, a global movement spearheaded by UN and other global leaders to save the lives of women and children and improve the lives of millions more by 2015.

The launch two days ago (Wednesday) of the report of the United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children is a major milestone in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s push to ensure the success of the Every Woman Every Child movement.

It is now two years since the movement was launched in New York during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit. Its agenda – to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 – is ambitious, but achievable.

About 250 organisations, including at least 73 governments, have made commitments to the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health in support of Every Woman Every Child. Of the $40 billion in confirmed financial commitments, at least $10 billion have already been disbursed. Nigeria is one of 50 developing countries, which have made commitments to the effort. In addition, President Goodluck Jonathan serves as a founding co-chairman of the Commission on Life-Saving Commodities.

The commission, launched in March 2012, has a very important role to play in improving access to essential but overlooked health supplies. Increased access and correct use of quality supplies could save the lives of millions of women and children every year. When he accepted to serve on the commission, President Jonathan expressed his conviction that lives can be saved by increasing access to these affordable and effective supplies. He called for the participation of governments, the private sector, multilaterals, NGOs and the general public in making this access a reality.

Leadership is central to Every Woman Every Child. During his visit to Nigeria in May 2011, the Secretary-General noted how Mr. Jonathan’s leadership had led the National Assembly to pass the National Health Care Bill ahead of the budget, which was still being debated.  Indeed, the central ingredient in the implementation of the Global Strategy is the renewed determination of world leaders on the critical issues of women and children’s health. This is why it is so essential to understand that Every Woman Every Child is not simply about rows or columns of numbers, nor can it afford to be. This movement is about people, and the determination to ensure that policies and committed leadership account for lives saved, not count lives that could have been saved.

Globally, there are strong signals of progress and hope. Eight countries –Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Laos, Nepal and Vietnam are on track to achieve both MDG 4&5 by 2015. Between 1990 and 2010, maternal deaths fell by 47 per cent, and children’s deaths by about 41 per cent.

Furthermore, in several African countries, malaria infections have declined by 50 per cent or more. Also, a joint UN report this year, Trends in Maternal Mortality, showed that during that same period, as many as 24 countries in Africa achieved a reduction in maternal mortality of 41 per cent. In Eritrea, the reduction was 73 per cent, while Equatorial Guinea recorded 81 per cent. What these figures signal, and the challenge of Every Woman Every Child, is that success is achievable, and that the few ticks left on the clock between now and 2015 can yield remarkable progress in saving lives.

In this regard, a few things are quite clear about the mission of the Global Strategy. The first is the awareness that not only is there a lot at stake in saving lives, from a human rights point of view and as a matter of economics – we know what needs to be done. No child should die of preventable causes; no woman should die giving life: this is within our reach and it is in our hands. The second is the opportunity it provides for both the public and private sector to collaborate, to the benefit of communities and families across the globe.

For UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, at the heart of its work is the objective of increasing access to and use of quality maternal and newborn health services. This is why it collaborates with other UN agencies in supporting the Every Woman Every Child movement and supporting governments of priority countries to implement the Global Strategy. UNFPA is also working to broaden access to voluntary family planning so as to help reduce unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal deaths and disabilities.

Furthermore, UNFPA is committed to helping countries to increase financial and political support to the implementation of the recommendations of the Commodities Commission, with strong support from leaders in the Global South, particularly Nigeria, which next month will host a high-level meeting to discuss the recommendations in the commission’s report. Through the work of this commission and others committed to the Global Strategy, our task is clear; to explore every opportunity to reach every woman and every child who are still vulnerable.

Maternal and child health are serious issues that have to be taken seriously. It is not acceptable, in this day and age, that pregnancy, childbirth and childhood continue to be tantamount to a death threat for so many.

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