CONFERENCE: World Health Assemby, 18-22 MAY 2009

Leaders urge World Health Assembly to invest in maternal health and health systems

Organizer: World Health Organization
Event date: 18-22 May 2009
Venue: Geneva Switzerland

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Mrs Sarah Brown
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Mrs Sarah Brown. Photo WHO

19 MAY 2009 / GENEVA - Both guest speakers at the 62nd World Health Assembly (WHA) called for Ministers to focus and invest in maternal health - notwithstanding the importance of H1N1 Influenza preparedness. United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon and Ms Sarah Brown, wife of the United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister and maternal health advocate, both spoke eloquently on the urgent need to end unnecessary maternal deaths in developing countries and increase investment in health system strengthening through a focus on maternal health.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon started by citing his office's priority on global health and acknowledging the work being done by the World Health Organization on the Influenza A (H1N1) preparedness. Howevr, he then turned to the discussion of important "fundamentals" which could not be ignored. Mr Ban named maternal health and mortality "a key barometer of a functioning health system,..There is perhaps no single issue that ties together the security, prosperity and progress of our world than women’s health. "

Calling maternal health "the mother of all health challenges, " Mr Ban pointed to a functioning health system as the only solution to unnecessary maternal deaths: "If a health system is available and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and capable of handling normal deliveries and emergencies, then it is equipped to provide a wide range of other services as well. " He challenged Health Ministers and donors to "begin with maternal health."

Mr Ban ended by calling the lack of progress in reducing maternal "an outrage" and calling for joint action to invest in maternal health: " Today, maternal mortality is the slowest moving target of all the Millennium Development Goals – and that is an outrage," said Mr Ban. "Together, let us make maternal health the priority it must be. In the 21st century, no woman should have to give her life to give life."

Please find links to the speech or video of Secretary-General Ban from the box above.

Mrs Sarah Brown, UK First Lady and patron, White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood

Following on the Secretary-General's strong call for action on maternal health, Mrs. Gordon Brown, patron of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and leader in the Maternal Mortality Campaign, brought a strong personal message: "I speak today on maternal mortality only as a mother: on behalf of the half a million mothers who die every year from just about the most avoidable, the most preventable deaths of all. And for every death , 30 more suffer debilitating and painful injury from pregnancy and childbirth."

Pointing out that solutions were known and affordable to save women's lives, she called on the Health Ministers to make the political and moral commitment to saving mothers lives: "You know that it is our duty - all of us here - to move the world to action against such avoidable tragedies. "

As a champion to the maternal cause, Mrs. Brown has been working to establish a network of national and international champions with the Global Leaders Network and the Maternal Mortality Campaign. She called on the ministers to put girls and women at the centre of health systems funding, pointing to the key role of maternal health in building strong health systems: "A health system that works for a mother, works also for early infant care, for vaccinations, for infection control, for blood transfusions, for emergency surgery for every member of the community. There is better understanding now than ever before than if we build for mothers then we build for everyone".

Please find links to the speech or video of Mrs Brown from the box above.

Reports related to maternal, newborn + child health at the Assembly

The 62nd World Health Assembly (WHA) began on 18 May 2009 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and was to be a short Assembly, ending on 22 May 2009. The World Health Assembly is the annual meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) 193 Member States and it is the supreme decision-making body of WHO. It sets the policy for the Organization and approves its budget.

Although the lead issue for discussion was the Influenza A (H1N1) preparedness, sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines, there were also discussions and topics related to maternal, newborn and child health: primary health care, health systems strengthening, the Commission on Social Determinants of Health and Public Health. Most specifically, several progress reports were discussed including the progress towards the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the progress towards Resolution 58.31: Working towards universal coverage of maternal, newborn and child health interventions.

Two reports relevant to maternal, newborn and child health have been prepared by the Secretariat:

  • 62nd WHA Report A62.10: Monitoring of the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals
  • 62nd WHA Report A62/23: Progress reports on technical and health matters- Item: G. Working towards universal coverage of maternal, newborn and child health interventions (resolution WHA58.31)

Please find links to these documents from the box above.