September 22, 2014

Accountability Breakfast: Leave no woman, child or adolescent behind

This post originally appeared on PMNCH’s website here. Reposted with permission.

accountability-breakfast-400x400Ministers, ambassadors, senior public officials, and civil society representatives gathered on Sunday in new York at a lively breakfast meeting hosted by PMNCH, Countdown to 2015, the independent Expert Review Group (iERG) and World Health Organization (WHO). In its fourth year, the breakfast, traditionally in support of Every Woman Every Child (EWEC), is an opportunity to review the progress made for women and children’s health and a precursor of the week to come.

Important new data and evidence were highlighted from several new reports including the 2014 PMNCH Report on Commitments to the Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health and the third report from iERG, focused on a vision for women’s and children’s health in post-2015. Key findings and recommendations from both these reports show the progress and the change that is still needed for women and children. With under 500 days left until the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and with one year left to shape the sustainable development goals, these reports show that stakeholders are at critical junction for women’s and children’s health. A position laid bare during the discussions on Sunday.

A key theme throughout the event was that of sustainability and strengthening health systems. Dr Chan, Director-General, WHO, stressed that while progress has been made for women and children, the Ebola crisis in West Africa is a reminder “that even excellent progress can be so fragile.” She, along with other speakers including Julia Duncan-Cassell, the Liberian Minister of Gender and Development, emphasized the importance of building and strengthening health systems to ensure results are sustainable and systems are to be able to withstand crises . Minister Duncan-Cassell also drew the room’s attention to the gendered nature of the current Ebola crisis, with women making up nearly 75% of Ebola fatalities in her country given that it is often women and girls who care for the ill and wash the bodies of the deceased. In addition, given the collapse of the health system, there is anecdotal evidence that there are grave impacts on maternal health, as women are not able or in some cases willing to give birth in health facilities with skilled birth attendants.

Bob Orr, Assistant-Secretary General of the UN and key leader of the Every Woman Every Child movement, emphasized UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s commitment to women’s and children’s health. He emphasized the Secretary-General’s conviction that women and children have to be “at the front of the queue, not at the back of the MDG train.”

Top of mind for all participants was how women’s and children’s health will feature in the post-2015 development landscape and the global health architecture to support it. For the first time in a public fora, panelists and attendees discussed the current plans to develop a Global Finance Facility (GFF), hosted by the World Bank, to better coordinate and leverage financial resources for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in the 2015-2030 period. Speaking on behalf of the World Bank, Dr Tim Evans briefly described the proposed facility, and expressed great optimism saying, “We have a historic opportunity to bend the curve and eliminate preventable child and maternal deaths within a generation.” While not the only solution, he suggested that the GFF would accelerate progress by pooling funding, leveraging other financial tools and mechanisms, and simplifying and streamlining the global RMNCH landscape to reduce the application and reporting burden on countries.

Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health of Rwanda, joined the panel on financing for greater accountability and equity to make an powerful demand from the donor community to respect country leadership in planning, to reduce the burden in reporting requirements of countries, and to work together to invest in national health systems in a more holistic manner. ‘Ask us what we need and we will tell you, don’t go and speculate: We have a good plan and we know our needs … the global community must be more accountable on coordination. We are disrupted by you in our work.’

Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of the Lancet, provided an overview of the iERG’s Every Woman Every Child: Post-2015 Vision report along with a proposed new framework for a sustainable approach to improving women and children’s health. He warned that “the landscape for women’s and children’s health is about to undergo a seismic shift” calling for action not paralysis in the face of uncertainty. He told participants that “sustainability is about paying as much attention to the future as we do to the present… it is about the value we put on our lives and on the lives of our children.” Stakeholders this week in New York, will indeed pay heed to these words as they look to help shape a set of sustainable development goals, which leave no woman, child or adolescent behind.