Executive Director’s blog

Messages from UNGA

New York, New York. People either approach the UNGA week with much excitement, or some trepidation, often both. I have a confession. Three years on from the excitement of the launch of the Global Strategy, I was, shall we say, a little anxious that the ‘fizz might have gone out of the champagne’. Not for any lack of will, and energy from all of the readers of this blog, but from a wider community, caught up (rightly) with the tragic events in Syria, or looking so far forward to the post MDG era, that we might lose sight of the results so far (see Jeff Sachs blog – 4 cheers for the UN), and the remaining challenges for women and children. But, relief all round. The week was very energizing, and energetic - with handheld GPS and good shoe leather in the absence of cabs, and to negotiate the many blocked streets.

PMNCH and partners advocating for women’s and children’s health were present in multiple events, and it was good to catch up with so many Board members and partners. The meetings brought a new level of focus, commitment, accountability and determination to not only increase our efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, but also to ensure that women’s and children’s health remains a high priority in the post-2015 agenda.

Highlights of the week included the launch of both the PMNCH 2013 Report and Success Factor Study, the report of the independent Expert Review Group on the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability, strong new commitments to the Global Strategy from the World Bank, United Kingdom and private sector, as well as a pledges to strengthen the data and information systems that underpin all of our progress.

There were many clear messages in the week. Most importantly, we heard from young women and girls speaking out about their own lives. These young voices rang out repeatedly in New York, reminding us all about the importance of prioritizing adolescent health and ending child marriage. No revolution has ever succeeded without the voices of those most affected leading the charge, and this year’s UNGA marked a sea change in our collective will to facilitate these voices to be heard. But we can do even better; we need to have the youth voice in all events, and, why, not, leading the main stream events, not just the youth segments. After all, the post 2015 world will be their world, not ours (at least from where I’m sitting age wise…….)

We also heard a clear message about the importance of data – we need to invest in real time data for better planning and measurement. It is a basic human right to be counted. Our current time lag of 2+ years in data reporting simply isn’t acceptable in this era of innovation. As one participant noted during the UN General Assembly – we won’t actually know until 2017 if we met our 2015 MDG goals.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment to convening a meeting on civic and vital registration early next year was indeed very welcome, and we applaud Canada and Tanzania – the co-chairs of the Commission on Information and Accountability – for staying the course on accountability and continuing to use their political capital for women and children’s health. And Bill and Melinda Gates were loud and influential voices in multiple events, but particularly in ensuring that woman and children remain central in the post 2015 world. Many, many others were leading from the front. Partisan it may be of me, but allow me this one indulgence. I was (actually, still am….) very proud to be British, and to hear the UK Development Minister, Justine Greening, announce a US$1.5 billion commitment for the Global Fund replenishment and to confirm that the UK has met its 0.7 commitment. We are all behind the Global Fund’s strategy of maximizing its existing and future investments for women’s and children’s health. President Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank, also announced US$700 million. The good news just kept rolling in.

However, what we did not see was a much stronger focus on newborn health. Given that newborn mortality accounts for almost half --- 44% -- of all under-five mortality, this is especially puzzling. I am a midwife. There are many things we need to do, but if we need to pick just one, then we need to improve care around the critical time of birth, when lives are so vulnerable. We will be turning up the volume on this call for action with the Every Newborn plan, to be launched next year in conjunction with the World Health Assembly.

So, space constraints mean I have missed much welcome news, and details on successes and results, and many fantastic commitments are not here, but we will capture them all in various eBlasts and other cyber-comms in the coming days and weeks.