WHO Director General hails progress in child survival, urges accelerated action for maternal, newborn health

19 May 2008, GENEVA

Dr Chan addresses the 61st WHA
Photo © WHO
Dr Chan addresses the 61st WHA

Geneva, 19 May 2008 - The health of women, newborns and young children were a priority focus of Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, during her keynote address to the 61st World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva.

"Progress in improving women's health is disappointingly low", said Dr Chan, reminding delegates that improving the health of Africans and the health of women are two of her highest priorities. "This is especially true for maternal health, where mortality has remained stubbornly high despite more than 20 years of efforts".

"I personally find this lack of progress outrageous. Is the value society places on women so small that their lives are simply dismissed as expendable? If the answer is no, then we absolutely must double our efforts to make sure that the health of women is protected," the WHO Director General added.

Dr Chan hailed progress in reducing child mortality during her speech. "Last year, global mortality of young children dipped below 10 million for the first time" she said, calling immunization gains "one of the best success stories in public health". The WHO Director General also congratulated Assembly delegates for extending coverage of Integrated Management of Childhood Illness, noting this has been now adopted as the principal child survival strategy in 100 countries.

Progress in child survival has revealed another critical problem - the high levels of newborn mortality. Dr Chan called for increased focus on this, citing research showing that "something as simple as skin-to-skin contact with mothers - so-called 'kangaroo' mother care - can save the lives of pre-term babies."

Dr Chan urged that the principles of equity and social justice remain a priority focus of efforts as the world enterd "the second phase of the global drive to achieve the MDGs" as she described it. These principles echo the value system that captured world attention when the Declaration of Alma-Ata was signed 30 years ago," Dr Chan stated. Maternal, newborn and child health lies at the very foundation of the primary health care concept which WHO will devote the 2008 World Health Report to be released in October.