LONDON, Oct. 20 – Strong new pledges of commitment to invest in women’s health came from donors, government officials, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations today at closing sessions of the landmark Women Deliver conference, which sought to mobilize political will and investment to reduce pregnancy-related deaths and disabilities worldwide.
More than 1,800 participants from 109 countries cheered a final statement from the 70 cabinet ministers and parliamentarians present, who pledged to make achievement of Millennium Development Goal #5 (improve maternal health) “a high priority on the national, regional and international health agenda.”
The ministers and parliamentarians also pledged to be advocates in their home countries for “increased commitment of financial and human resources” against maternal mortality and to accelerate the expansion of services for maternal and newborn health.
“We are making a promise to the women of the world,” said Ann Starrs, executive vice president of Family Care International, the conference organizing partner, at the closing plenary session. “We recognize your contributions and value your lives. We will not allow this injustice and waste to continue. We will deliver.”
Echoing that sentiment was Rep. Lois Capps, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California and head of the five-member U.S. congressional delegation. “We may have dragged our feet a bit in the U.S., but we are going to hold hearings and we’re going to create a workable strategy on behalf of women,” she said. “We’re going to make sure that the U.S. participates in a global effort to deliver for women around the world.”
The three-day conference included a grant announcement of more than US$200 million from the United Kingdom to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, to advance women’s reproductive health worldwide; a US$11 million investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in distributing new technology against blood loss after childbirth in Nigeria and India; and a commitment from Japan to put global health at the centre of the Group of Eight summit meeting in Japan next year.
Pledges of further action also came from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, Exxon/Mobil, and GlaxoSmithKline.
Advocates for women’s health should seek to work both within governments and as non-governmental organization activists, said Dr. Helene Gayle, president of CARE. “We need people both on the inside and the outside to figure out how to work together to get these things to happen,” she said. “NGOs can’t do it by themselves.”
Earlier commitments to the goals of Women Deliver included pledges of US$1 billion from Norway for the Global Campaign for the Health MDGs, an initiative to secure achievement of the MDGs to improve child health and reduce disease, as well as the maternal health goal. The Netherlands pledged 125 million Euros (about US$178 million) for gender equality and maternal health, and Denmark pledged 110 million kroner (US$21 million) for HIV/AIDS and reproductive health.
“Increased and dependable financing would make a big difference in saving the half a million mothers who die each year in pregnancy or when giving birth,” said Morten Wetland, secretary of state for Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
“All national, regional and international leaders must recognize that the achievement of the MDGs as a whole, and improvement of health systems more broadly, depend largely on achieving MDGs 4 and 5,” the ministers’ statement said.