Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik
Former Prime Minister of Norway and UN Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa
EVENT : World Health Assembly briefing on The Partnership
Geneva, Switzerland, 24 May 2006
Maternal, newborn and child survival is a human rights issue. Each year approximately four million newborns and 500,000 pregnant women die due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth; 99 % of these deaths occur in the poorest countries of the world. In addition to this, 6 million children die before their 5th birthday. These figures, exceeding the number of deaths caused per year by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, are evidence of one of the starkest health inequities of our time. Much could potentially be done to save and improve the lives of mothers and their newborns and children if the general public was more fully informed about the risks associated with childbearing in developing countries, and galvanized to work towards alleviating these risks.
What can we do?
While there are a number of separate interventions to save the lives of women, newborns and children, we must provide care at the most crucial times in the human lifecycle– during pregnancy, delivery, the early weeks of life leading through the crucial first five years on to the rest of the life cycle - a continuum of care. This means putting the right strategies in place across programs and across service providers, throughout pregnancy and childbirth through to childhood.
The continuum of care also links households and communities to health services by promoting healthy home-based practices, mobilising families to seek the care they need, addressing gender inequities, and increasing access to and quality of care in health facilities at both primary and referral level.
Empowerment of women, families and communities, and encouraging a shared sense of responsibility for pregnancy, childbirth and childhood, is central to addressing the political, socio-economic, and cultural factors that so often prevent women and their families from reaching good quality care.
Change is possible
Change is possible. Rapid and equitable scale-up of interventions such as integrated management of childhood illness, the universal provision of emergency obstetric care and sexual and reproductive health services, and the provision of strengthened health systems should be accorded the highest priority.
Most maternal deaths could be prevented if women have access to adequate health care during pregnancy, childbirth and childhood including: basic prenatal care, skilled birth attendants at the time of delivery, access to emergency obstetrical care when complications arise for the mother and her baby, vaccines and antibiotics.
Sustained change is possible, but only if we address the underlying causes as well
Although achieving MDGs 4 and 5 depends on increasing access to a range of key technical interventions, simply identifying those interventions and calling for their broad deployment is not enough. It requires wrestling with the dynamics of power that underlie the patterns of population health in the world today. Those patterns reveal deep inequities in health status and access to healthcare both between and within countries. Any strategy for meeting the quantitative targets must address inequity head-on.
We have to invest
The World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2005 estimates that meeting the Millennium Development Goals for maternal and child health will require an additional US $9 billion on average per year from now to 2015. But it's not just about funding. Without sustained global commitment, better health and information systems, a stronger health workforce, community participation, improved coordination and, most importantly, immediate action, the world will fail millions of women and children.
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health will bring about synergies among its partners to improve health outcomes under country leadership. It will help countries to strengthen coordination mechanisms, advocate at all levels for resource mobilization and implement evidence-based interventions at scale.
This is an era of global abundance, with a massive divide between the rich and the poor. It is up to all of us to change it. We can do so only if we work together.