Message from the Chair: about the iERG open consultation with stakeholders
May 24, 2012
It was an event all of us on the iERG have been looking forward to for months - our first open consultation with stakeholders. We have pored through numerical data, complex tables, challenging graphs, research papers, arid reports, and inflated claims. We needed a reality check. A meeting where people with first-hand knowledge of women's and children's health spoke about their experiences and concerns. On Thursday, May 24, in Geneva at the World Health Assembly, we got what we hoped for.
The stage was set by a superb set on introductions. Rebecca Affolder, from Ban-Ki Moon's office, explained the history and goals of his Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, "Every Woman, Every Child." Flavia Bustreo, WHO's Assistant-Director General for Family, Women's, and Children's Health, showed how WHO and her partner agencies were working to deliver accountability around the Global Strategy. Ann Starrs, on behalf of the Countdown to 2015 collaboration, gave an early preview of the latest Countdown findings - measuring progress towards MDGs 4 and 5. And, finally, Carole Presern, the Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, described how she was leading a team monitoring how the commitments and promises made to "Every Woman, Every Child" were being delivered - or not.
And then we heard from the large audience assembled in the World Council of Churches. We were encouraged to be bold, not to be boring, to make the best use of the independence we have been given. Offer praise, for sure, but don't be afraid to criticise. Positively, we learned that our accountability framework and the multistakeholder process it fosters in countries is welcomed. Less positively, we also heard that country strategies for women's and children's health were sometimes disconnected from global agreements and norms.
The Commission on Information and Accountability was enthusiastic about technology - the potential for technologies, such as mobile phones, to accelerate progress towards better results and resource tracking, as well as better oversight. But we learned this week that we are in the low foothills of understanding what we can achieve though ICT. We are only beginning to agree on minimum data elements for interoperable systems of monitoring, for example.
The big discussion centred on oversight. We were urged to take human rights dimensions of accountability very seriously indeed. On national oversight, many questions were asked. How should we get meaningful engagement and participation from citizens and civil society? (We heard of excellent examples of "participatory governance" in Peru, to take just one example.) How can we mobilise Ministries of Finance? How can we get national (and regional) parliaments involved in accountability? Can we create one national accountability platform, not just for women's and children's health, but for all health? And what of global oversight? Here there was a very large silence.
We were also urged to take seriously the importance of adolescents, nutrition, and quality. As the afternoon proceeded, our task seemed to grow bigger and bigger.
So what did we learn? We learned that we are going to have to be selective and strategic. We can't cover every aspect of women's and children's health. Our task must be to identify the critical gaps and obstacles that are preventing or slowing progress. And as we assembled for a two-day meeting of the iERG to begin mapping our report, this pressing need for focus began to yield some interesting possibilities - for what we might be able to say and, we hope, achieve.
Thank you to everyone who came to help us.