Less than a quarter of the way through 2010, this is shaping up to be a seminal year in our struggle for progress on maternal and newborn health. With only five years left until the Millennium Development Goals’ 2015 deadline, advocates from around the world are mobilizing in unprecedented ways around demands for political commitment and financial investment to save the lives of millions of women and babies, and policy makers in both donor and developed countries have had no choice but to take note. Our challenge this year is to translate this high-level attention to our cause into concrete action.
The markers of progress –and of new opportunities to drive progress – couldn’t be clearer. Stakeholders from government, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society are coalescing around the Consensus for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (http://www.who.int/pmnch/topics/part_publications/2009_mnchconsensus/en/index.html), introduced in September 2009 at a UN General Assembly event. The Secretary-General has announced, and next month will launch, a unique and promising “joint effort” to accelerate progress on the health MDGs, with a focus on women, newborns, and children. A second Women Deliver conference, in Washington, D.C. in June, will bring together thousands of stakeholders — government ministers, parliamentarians, advocates, midwives, and more — from hundreds of countries behind a call for investment in girls and women. The G8 Summit, hosted this year by Canada, will have maternal, newborn, and child health at the center of its agenda. All this will culminate in New York in September, when the UN General Assembly will hold the “MDG Summit.”
At that crucial moment, the nations of the world must recognize that the MDGs 4 and 5 on child and maternal health – and especially MDG 5, which is closely linked to newborn survival – are the farthest of all the MDGs from achieving their targets. As advocates for newborns, and for their mothers and siblings, it is our job to make sure that the world does more than just lament this lack of progress; government leaders must forcefully reaffirm the promise they made in adopting the MDGs, by making powerful new financial, policy, and programmatic commitments.
And that culmination is, of course, just another beginning — the beginning of a new set of urgently important tasks: to ensure that governments are accountable for coming through on their promises; to develop, promote, implement and evaluate programs to deliver the health interventions that will save lives; to demand equity in health services, so that even the poorest, most remote, and most marginalized families have access to the health care that they need and that is their right; and to make the compelling case for the next stage of even deeper commitment and greater investment. The goal, of course, is to fulfill our shared vision of a world in which newborn babies, women, and children no longer die needlessly from causes that are easily and routinely prevented in the developed world.
At the heart of this cause is our focus on the continuum of care — the tie that binds together the survival of newborns, children, and women. We know that access to family planning, and safe abortion when legal, allows women to control the number and timing of their pregnancies, and that this markedly reduces both maternal and newborn mortality. We know that better antenatal care and skilled delivery care makes childbirth safer for women and their babies. We know that accessible emergency care for childbirth complications saves the lives of both mothers and newborns. We know that timely visits with health workers in the days after birth make for more successful outcomes for both mother and infant. We know that newborns are much more likely to survive and thrive when their mothers survive. And we know, too, that the same is true for the family’s older children.
We know all of that. This is the year that we make global and national policy makers understand it, commit to it, invest in it, and act on it. Please join us.
Ann Starrs, President
Family Care International