London: Twenty years since the Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched in Kenya comes Women Deliver, an international conference on maternal health that brings together more than 70 countries, each of which agrees that investing in women’s health pays and that it is time available resources, knowledge, funds and political will were harnessed to ensure that women stop dying ’unnecessarily’ in child birth.
At the Opening Plenary on Thursday, the United Kingdom announced an additional £100 million (more than $200 million) will be given to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over the next five years to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and make childbirth safer in these two continents.
UK Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander said the money will help UNFPA provide support for governments in Africa and South Asia in supplying more condoms, contraceptive pills and advice on better sexual health to poor women, girls and men.
UK Prime Minister Gorden Brown, in a taped message at the start of the conference, said investing in women is the most productive strategy for a country to follow and it is imperative for governments to realize that when a mother dies a preventable death, the vulnerabilities of her entire family increase manifold. Evidence of maternal mortality continue to present an alarming picture — with one woman in every 7,300 dying due to childbirth and pregnancy related complications in the industrialized nations, there was one in every 75 dying in developing countries and one in 26 dying in African countries — the tragedy is that many of these deaths can be prevented.
While emphasizing that investing in maternal health makes sound financial sense, it was pointed out that donor funding would need to increase 11 fold from the present $530 million in 2004 to $6.1 billion in 2015, a target set by the MDG5. While consensus is there, a lot more coordination between governments, NGOs and civil society partnerships would need to be synchronized as ground level implementation, across countries becomes a reality.
“The pace of change has to be accelerated, for while the world knows what needs to be done, it has not done it fast enough”, said Jill Sheffield, president, Family Care International. Thoraya Abid, executive director, UNFPA echoing the theme of the conference said that maternal health, gender and development were inextricably linked and no progress was likely to happen unless decision makers realized that women’s rights were no different than human rights
During the course of the three days more than 1800 delegates, of which 110 are ministers and senior government functionaries from 70 countries, human rights activists, NGOs, faith groups, health professionals and economists will discuss case studies and challenges unique to their settings as they devise mechanisms to drastically scale up access and healthy delivery systems that can improve women’s sexual and reproductive health needs.
Peter Piot, executive director, UNAIDS expressed satisfaction at the way global agencies and governments were joining hands to address issues that were at a deeper level connected. With 5,000 women getting infected daily with HIV worldwide, there was a case for meaningful partnership between women’s reproductive health, HIV and violence against women. He also said 3,34,000 midwives needed to be trained to handle the present challenge of maternal health care.
The UN global target is to save the lives of at least 432,225 mothers by the year 2015. This conference hopes to be a watershed in the lives of women, as it ushers in a ‘Health Age’.