April 16, 2010
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a new initiative aimed at improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health on Wednesday at a meeting of international leaders, in an effort to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for reducing maternal deaths, Inter Press Service reports (Suozzi, 4/15).
Ban announced the Joint Action Plan, which calls for governments, businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders to come up with "new initiatives and adopt an accountability framework that will keep maternal and child health high on the national and international development agenda," the U.N. News Centre writes.
"The fact remains that one preventable maternal death is too many; hundreds of thousands are simply unacceptable -- this, in the 21st century," Ban said ahead of a meeting to discuss developing the plan (4/14). According to IPS, Ban said the international community must expand access to emergency care and trained midwives for women worldwide. These actions could reduce maternal deaths by three-quarters, he said.
"We know women are the drivers of progress," according to Ban. "In the poorest societies of the world, it is women who care for the children. They grow the crops, hold societies together. Women deliver -- and not just babies. And if we deliver for women, we can change the world for the better."
Ban called for new initiatives that would "engage communities, governments and international institutions." He said, "It means bringing the newest technologies to even the most remote places. We need to be able to track progress, determine what works and what does not, and deliver sustainable and effective programmes."
The IPS article notes several other world leaders who met with Ban, including Beverly Oda, Canada's international cooperation minister, who discussed Canada's maternal and child health initiative to be launched at the upcoming G8 conference. "Commitments made at the G8 Muskoka Summit in June 2010 can make a tangible difference and will be a key contribution to the U.N. secretary-general's initiative," she said. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan highlighted models of success, including preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMCTC) of HIV. "PMCTC is a perfect example where you bring together maternal, newborn and neonatal child health, as well as HIV and other modalities," she said.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, also at the press conference, addressed a Lancet study released this week that showed maternal mortality rates have decreased worldwide. "The progress is too slow. There is a long way to go. And it is completely unacceptable that so many children and so many mothers die, because most of them die from easily preventable causes," he said (4/15).
According to the U.N. News Centre, Chan was asked about the findings in the Lancet and current U.N. estimates that show little progress in reducing maternal mortality. "Chan said an inter-agency group was conducting an update and the early signal is that the trends are similar to what The Lancet reported," the news service writes. "So basically we are seeing progress," she added. "But it is also correct to say that the progress is not enough, the progress is fragile. Some countries are making progress, primarily India, China, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia -- the list is longer than what I have just said -- but the U.N. has 192 countries, so we would like to see further progress in other countries" (4/14).
According to a U.N. press briefing document, "In response to allegations that pressure was brought to bear on The Lancet to delay publishing its findings -- which show a greater reduction of maternal mortality than those of the United Nations -- until after the launch of the Joint Action Plan, so as not to put a damper on fundraising, Secretary-General Ban said that he was not aware of any such pressure. 'Everyone at this meeting is a firm believer in science,' he assured correspondents. 'Any signs of progress show we are on the right track,' he added" (4/14).