Sixty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly


Women’s and children’s health: now and in the post 2015 development agenda


With 827 days left to achieve the goals of MDGs 4 & 5, leaders, dignitaries, ministers and multilateral institutions came together at a high level event to focus attention on the Unfinished Agenda of the MDGs--women’s and children’s health.

The event, hosted by the Government of Canada, Tanzania and Norway, with the support of the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sought to place at the heart of its discussions, the need to sustain momentum and focus on women’s and children’s health; ensure interventions integral to this group are implemented and reiterate the importance of championing key measures needed to strengthen accountability.

The panel discussions , moderated by Norah O’Donnell of the CBS Morning Show, opened with remarks from Deputy Secretary –General to the UN Jan Eliasson who welcomed panelists and participants thanking them for all they have been doing , and reminding them in the words of the Secretary-General that “women’s and children’s health yields incalculable returns in terms of lives saved” .

He provided context as to why initiatives like Every Woman Every Child were important ,pointing to the reduction of maternal deaths by half and acknowledging the passion of leaders such as President Johnson of Nigeria, President Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania , Prime Minister Harper of Canada, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenburg of Norway who have backed the initiative with passion. In concluding he sounded a rallying call to action saying, “this vision is absolutely crucial for our future let us go forward with hope and resolve to achieve a life of dignity for all.”

President Jakaya Kikwete reported that there had been unprecedented momentum in Tanzania “with considerable progress made and many lives saved”. An area where such progress was most noticeable was in the training of doctors, nurses and midwives with numbers rising from fewer than 1,000 to more than 8,000. Yet there was still work to be done in the area of under five deaths and maternal mortality.

During the panel discussions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that part of the funds that Canada committed during the Muskoka Initiative in 2010 will go towards nine major projects to improve maternal and child health and promote vaccination in developing countries. He also added that next year, as part of this initiative, Canada would host a meeting on the issue of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics. President Harper went on to acknowledged that even with the unprecedented focus on maternal newborn and child health meeting the MDGs in this area was still unlikely but urged that “we not simply resign ourselves to incompletion but stay the course and continue to push strongly towards these goals”.

Melinda Gates, co-Founder and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed why it was important to keep pushing towards these goal, she said “women and girls are the bedrock of society and we know that if we put a bit of economic means in a women’s hands she will invest in her family”. She joined other speakers in emphasizing the importance of family planning saying family planning gives women opportunities to “work, feed and educate their children. Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization in looking forward noted that the centrality of maternal and child health in the post-2015 agenda was important and urged countries in the process of negotiating for the future to stay focused with a limited number of measurable outcomes.

In a second panel hosted by Dr Richard Horton, Chief Editor of the Lancet and co-chair of the independent Expert Review Group, panelists were questioned on their views on how to accelerate action in women’s and children’s health. Some of the recommendations included:

  • The need for bold and audacious leaders to “walk the talk” and create women and children sensitive policies;
  • Political commitment and continuing investment with government allocating resources for essential interventions;
  • Collecting better data to understand where and who were the most disadvantaged because without data, resources cannot be prioritized;
  • Putting life -saving tools in the hands of health workers and providing affordable quality interventions;
  • Ensuring initiatives are harmonized by creating strong strategic plans at country level and asking all the existing initiatives to support the plan;
  • Pushing for civil registration and vital statistics “which determines the capacity of an individual to claim her right to services”;
  • Preventing early marriage, investing in education for young women and girls and providing age appropriate reproductive health service;
  • Using innovation- 10 break though innovations having been identified which can make huge impact on the lives of women and children.

Panel participants included: Tore Godal, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Norway, HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, Anne Brigitte Albrectson, Deputy Executive Director, UNFPA, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health, Nigeria, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary, World YWCA, HE Dr Awa Coll- Seck, Minister of Health, Senegal and Ariel Pablo Mendes, Assistant Administrator, USAID.

In between the panel session, participants watched a video from Mrs Graça Machel, PMNCH board chair on the critical need for accountability. Dr Margaret Chan in her closing remarks urged participant in the remaining 825 days, to continue work on the unfinished business which must remain central post 2015.