A Good News Year for Women and Children?

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post

Could this be a good news year for women and children? Over the years we have seen a lot of good, bad and ugly promises, campaigns and programmes. Some, such as increasing child vaccinations, have been very successful. But in the run up to the finish line for the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, we see that we are still way off key targets for women and children. So, people are seeking approaches that demonstrably work and finding opportunities to ensure that what works is spread around the world. I am excited to ‘good mouth’ these efforts.

I am about to share three pieces of good news which have a special meaning for me. As a mother of two children, I count my blessings everyday with the full knowledge that many women around the world do not have the right to choose and plan their families as I have, and many children will not survive to celebrate their fifth birthday.

The first piece of good news is that the number of women dying from pregnancy and birth related complications has almost halved in 20 years. The annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 – a decline of 47%. Though this still means that every two minutes, a mother dies of preventable pregnancy related complications, it shows that progress is possible. With all the current focus on accelerating responses to maternal deaths, I believe we can speed up the rate of change. We know what needs to be done, but those with the power to make a change need to be pushed to do so.

The second piece of good news is the Child Survival Call to Action in June. Convened by the governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia, this forum brought together 700 leaders and global experts to launch a sustained effort to save children’s lives and challenged the world to reduce child mortality to below 20 child deaths or fewer per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035. The Call to Action involves improving nutrition during the critical "1,000-day" window of opportunity from pregnancy until the child is two years old, eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV, providing essential newborn care, and promoting healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. This would mean fifth birthday parties, instead of burials, for at least 45 million children. Paradoxically, this will help limit population growth, as when they can be confident that their children will survive infancy, parents have fewer children.                                       Photographer’s  Credit: Suzanne Lee/Save the Children                            

This leads us to the third piece of good news – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with DFID and UNFPA, is galvanising global awareness by staging a Family Planning summit in London on World Population Day, 11 July. The summit aims to generate political will and  resources from developing countries, donors, and private sector and civil  society to meet the family planning needs of 120 million women in developing countries by 2020. DFID notes that increasing access to family planning information, services and supplies has dramatic health benefits for women and children, preventing up to a quarter of maternal deaths. As International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell puts it, "Every woman should be able to choose whether and when she has children". He also stresses that family planning is an extremely cost effective investment for the achievement of the maternal and child health Millennium Development Goals and wider development outcomes.

Of course the journey will not be easy, nor will it be without setbacks. But while huge problems remain and the global financial crisis makes things harder, we can have hope that if we keep working and campaigning together, we can still meet the Millennium Development Goals. Time is short but it is not too late. To me, as the Policy and Advocacy Manager at Women and Children First (UK), these three pieces come together like giant parts of a global jigsaw for achieving maternal and child health. And as a mother, I am excited that these three pieces fit together in ways which could help advance a just and prosperous future for children around the world and also for my two precious ones. We can win this.


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