Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Parliamentarians take action for maternal and newborn health

26 to 28 November 2008

Members of Parliament from 32 developing and developed countries as well as partners from international agencies and NGOs gathered in The Hague to discuss how parliamentarians can contribute to improve the health of women and newborn. The 2.5 days meeting that also included visits to Dutch health facilities and other institutions was organized by the WHO Department of Making Pregnancy Safer together with the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) and the parliament of the Netherlands.

The lawmakers used the opportunity to develop a roadmap with a variety of action points that can help to improve the situation in their countries. They identified seven key priority areas (pillars) in which action is needed most urgently if countries want to achieve Millennium Development Goals 5 and 4 aiming to improve maternal and newborn health. The pillars include political commitment, education, health systems, legislation, financial resourcing, cultural practices and partnership.

The participants also identified the conditions for success within these priority areas including for example accurate data, partner support, increased health budgets, human resource development, and mass media awareness. As action points the parliamentarians named building of cross-party coalitions, hearings in parliament, cooperation with budget and finance committees to prioritize maternal and newborn health, review of legislation, request for sex-disaggregated data and speaking out against harmful traditional practices.

The roadmap developed by the parliamentarians is designed as a framework for action that can be built on and expanded in the future weeks and months. Via a specifically created website, the participants and other parliamentarians will be able to continue to share experiences and help each other to achieve change.

In their address to the conference, the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr Bert Koenders, and the Dutch Minister for Health, Mr Ab Klink, both underlined that MDG5 is a policy priority for the Dutch government. Mr Koenders stressed that hardly any progress has been made towards this goal in the past 20 years. "How can this be", he asked, "when great steps forward have been made in other areas, towards attaining other MDGs? And when we know how to prevent most maternal mortality? Even less prosperous countries have managed this!"

In her closing remarks, WHO Assistant Director-General Ms Daisy Mafubelu stressed that during the meeting is had become again very clear that parliamentarians have a key role to play in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the prevention of the needless deaths of mothers and babies. She urged them to take action, join forces with old and new partners, solicit political commitment, lobby for higher health budgets and hold their governments accountable for their pledge to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015. And she ensured the parliamentarians that WHO will be at their side "beating the drum for the survival of mothers and newborns everywhere in the world".