One year ago, on October 18-20, nearly 2,000 participants from 115 countries came together to call for increased political will and investment in maternal health. We all agreed: Invest in women – it pays! Activists, global health organizations, governments, and non-governmental groups gathered at this international conference in London to demand action to save the lives of women and newborns.
A year later, we have seen a dramatic growth in visibility and attention for maternal and newborn health in the global arena. There is new energy, commitments, and networks – and new money; maternal health is being highlighted as the "lost" Millennium Development Goal, with urgent calls for action and new promises coming from the United Nations, donors, and many civil society groups; and maternal mortality is being widely recognized as an unacceptable economic loss and an intolerable injustice. We still have a long way to go if we're going to reach MDG 5 by 2015; but for the first time, the MDG 5 targets of reducing maternal mortality by 75% and achieving universal access to reproductive health for all are within reach – if the commitment can be sustained and if the necessary resources can be mobilized and invested in programs on the ground.
What has changed in the past 12 months? Below are some highlights of what the maternal health community writ large has achieved:
On September 25, 2008 a landmark event took place in New York, co-hosted by the presidents of Chile, Tanzania, and Finland. Commitment to Progress for Mothers, Newborns, and Children highlighted important commitments for maternal, newborn, and child health from governments, UN agencies, prominent individuals, private sector groups, and non-governmental organizations.
On the same day, at the High-Level Meeting at the UN to discuss the MDGs, the President of the World Bank and the Prime Minister of the UK announced a new task force to develop innovative financing mechanisms to strengthen health care systems, with a specific focus on saving the lives of 10 million women and children by 2015.
The International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights, a global partnership launched at the Women Deliver conference, is now up and running, supporting on-the-ground work in countries and advocating globally to highlight women's right to safe pregnancy and childbirth.
The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood launched their global campaign, A Promise to Mothers Lost, to increase political will and investment in maternal health. Sarah Brown, wife of the UK prime minister and patron of the Alliance, has mobilized political leaders, celebrities, and the media to join efforts to advance maternal health.
The maternal mortality issue reached celeb status. In September, Sarah Brown, Wendi Murdoch and Queen Rania of Jordan hosted an exclusive dinner in New York to discuss why improving maternal mortality is such an important goal of the UN and the global community. Women in attendance included: Christiane Amanpour, Whoopi Goldberg, Donna Karan, Elle Macpherson, Mary Robinson, Martha Stewart, and other leaders from fashion, the media, and the entertainment industry.
New and strengthened advocacy and program initiatives dedicated to maternal and child health have emerged: Women and Children First in the UK, World Vision International, and CARE International have all announced new commitments to generate resources and provide essential services to mothers, newborns and children.
In July 2008, the heads of state of the Group of Eight (G-8) major industrialized countries focused on maternal health for the first time. The final G-8 communiqué admitted that progress toward achieving MDGs 4 and 5 is seriously off track and acknowledged that the continuum of prevention and care should include a greater focus on maternal, newborn, and child health.
There is a clear and strong consensus around the core strategic pillars for saving women's lives: 1) family planning and other reproductive health services; 2) skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth; 3) emergency obstetric care for life-threatening complications; and 4) postnatal care for mothers and newborns. These core strategies are being widely referenced in speeches, publications, advocacy materials, and media outputs.
UNFPA established a new thematic fund for maternal health to boost global efforts to reduce the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth. The fund encourages developed countries and private sponsors to contribute more to saving women’s lives. Focused on supporting 75 countries with the greatest need, the goal is to raise $465 million during 2008-2011.
We've seen progress at the country level as well:
The Government of Cambodia placed reproductive, maternal, child and newborn health as the top priority in their new health sector plan for 2008 – 2015 and made a firm commitment to enhance skills and numbers of midwives;
In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education are promoting a Masters programme and training of mid-level health officers so that they can provide life-saving emergency surgery at rural hospitals. Ethiopia also signed the first country compact under the International Health Partnership, aimed at accelerating and harmonizing efforts to achieve MDG 4, 5 and 6;
Ghana announced that pregnant women who attend public hospitals will now receive free medical care; and a new regional campaign to reduce maternal and child mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean was launched in Chile in September.
THE NEXT STEP: How do you think action, interest, and momentum for maternal health has changed over the past year? Tell us what you have done to mobilize commitment and action, and what you're planning for next year. How will you deliver for women?
Visit the new Women Deliver Blog to share your story.