Sarah Brown speaks for mothers and children
Auction Art for Health, Christies, Rome, 18 June 2008
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement with the occasion of the auction of the paintings from the "Art for Health" project.
I would like to congratulate The Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health for the leading role it plays in the campaign to reduce the unacceptable high levels of mother’s deaths in pregnancy and childbirth around the world. This highly original art and health project organized by the Partnership together with the World Health Organization's Sexual and Reproductive Health Department is a great achievement. It will raise important funds and also has another valuable purpose.
These beautiful paintings carry an important message of determination and of hope for millions of women around the world; women who can take decisions that impact their health and the health of their young children, if they are given the chance and the means.
Many of you here today will be aware of the facts:
- Every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. 99% of these deaths take place in developing countries
- When a mother dies, her child is up to ten times more likely to perish - nearly 10 million children die every year.
It is heartbreaking that almost all of these deaths are preventable. We do not need to invent a cure for maternal and infant mortality. It is clear what needs to be done. Where women are able to access skilled health workers and functioning health systems, maternal and infant mortality rates are low. Yet worldwide, there are not enough trained health workers to deliver basic services – we have a global shortage of 4 million - and so maternal mortality rates remain high.
I have said this before on many occasions, but say it again to you now: this is no longer an issue of knowledge – we know how to save these lives – it is now an issue of advocacy and political will.
I was at the International Congress of Midwifery only two weeks ago, where I talked about tremendous political opportunity to make progress this year as the world prepares for important meetings. On the political calendar we see fast approaching the EU Millennium Development Goal Review in June, Japan’s G8 in July - for which global health is a key agenda item - and the Special Millennium Development Goal Call to Action Summit at the UN this September at which maternal and child health will be discussed. We must make sure we use these very specific opportunities to secure a breakthrough for women and children across the developing world especially because the Millennium Development Goals dedicated to them are the Goals on which least progress has been made.
Last week I encouraged my audience to be part of a powerful call to action to world leaders calling on them to ensure that every country has sufficient funding for health workers; to ensure that sufficient skills in maternal and child health exist amongst all new health workers; and to ensure the infrastructure, transport and pharmaceutical needs are met, even in remote and rural areas. I also hope that, in place of some of the inadequate measures currently used, maternal mortality can be made a key indicator as the best measure of the success of a working healthcare system.
We know that the international organizations of midwives, doctors and nurses around the world are working together to add their powerful voices to the growing call to action to our world’s leaders. As professionals they plan to play their part in sharing skills and providing training to birth attendants in countries where greater skills are needed.
You may think that as artists and collectors that there is no direct part that you can play to provide better health for the world’s most vulnerable people. But the artistic community has long played its part in communicating powerful messages on many subjects. Today you can each make an individual commitment to walk out of here and do one thing to help reduce maternal mortality and to act as incredibly effective advocates for an issue that is too often kept shamefully silent. That silence is an injustice that we in this room can make right by speaking out. As individuals you raise this issue however best you can – whether public speaking, writing letters to politicians, doing your bit to persuade opinion-formers and decision-makers, or hosting an event to spread the word. The Italian government will host next year’s G8 meetings at which the Millennium Development Goals will be reviewed and plans to meet the targets assessed. Let this year’s G8 set the funding commitments and Italy can lead the way in making sure promises are kept and goals realized by the 2015 deadline.
A powerful coalition of governments, civil society and private sector organizations are joining with influential individuals to call on governments to promise three things:
- To promise an additional 10 billion dollars annually to strengthen maternal, newborn and child health
- To promise to increase the number of trained health workers by 4 million with particular focus on skilled birth attendants
- To acknowledge that maternal mortality is one of the best indicators for judging the success of a health system
Momentum is already building.
- Leaders around the world have joined a Network of Global Leaders, steered by Prime Minister Stoltenberg and my husband, Gordon Brown, who have committed to act and deliver for women and children.
- President John Kufour announced in May that pregnant women who attend public hospitals nationwide will now receive free medical care in Ghana.
- President Jakaya Kikwete has made maternal and infant health a priority in Tanzania and is widening access to health care in the most rural areas.
- The United States passed a resolution in Congress (led by Representative Lois Capps and Speaker Nancy Pelosi) in May calling on congress to reduce maternal mortality at home and abroad.
These steps forward are inspiring and there is still much to do.
What is also inspiring are the women portrayed in the paintings on sale here today. These are beautiful empowered women, who can make decisions about their health and decisions about their children. The auction of their portraits will not only raise money that will direct help vulnerable women and children but importantly, will also help raise awareness of the striking facts of mother and child mortality, carrying the message beyond the communities that are affected by this problem, to communities which can help implement the solution to it.
I wish you success with the auction today and with the boat clinic project in Honduras which will be funded through the proceeds of the sales.