October 19, 2015
Written by Tareq Salahuddin, Special Correspondent, News Hour
More than 1,000 policymakers, researchers, practitioners and advocates from 75 countries gathered today in Mexico City for the first Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference. The meeting marks the first opportunity for the maternal and newborn health communities to strategize actions needed to achieve the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, which were launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“Investing in the health and well-being of women and children is one of the smartest things countries can do. It enables them to take advantage of economic opportunities and achieve long-lasting benefits for their families, communities and nations,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Extraordinary progress is possible. By working together and integrating our efforts, we can collectively achieve greater impact, enabling more women and children to survive and thrive.”
“We now have the chance to achieve a grand convergence in health—a world where, within a generation, women and children all have the same access to health care and an equal opportunity to survive and thrive, regardless of where they give birth or are born,” said Ariel Pablos-Méndez, assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “This conference brings together the people that will help make this vision a reality by focusing on maternal and newborn health and fulfilling the commitments we have made to the Sustainable Development Goals.”
It is the first major meeting of experts since launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that highlights need for quality, equity and integration of health services for women and newborns. Several major reports will be launched at the conference, including the final Countdown to 2015 report and the mid-initiative report for Saving Mothers, Giving Life.
Hosted by the Secretariat of Health of Mexico and convening partners—Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) and Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives (SNL) program—the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference will discuss strategies for reaching every woman and newborn with high-quality health care and approaches to ending preventable maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirths.
“It is a privilege to host this important meeting in Mexico,” said Mercedes Juan López, Secretary of Health, Mexico. “We must take every opportunity to learn from one another so that the day of birth is a happy occasion for all, no matter who they are or where they live.”
Globally, more women survive pregnancy and childbirth—and more children survive their early years—than ever before. Still, each day, 800 women and 7,400 newborns die from preventable complications related to pregnancy, childbirth and other causes. An additional 7,300 women experience a stillbirth. Priority actions to reduce these deaths include increasing access to family planning and modern contraception, as well as quality care in pregnancy and around the time of birth through interventions like skilled birth attendants, exclusive breastfeeding, clean cord care, skin-to-skin contact and drying newborns.
“We know how to save women and newborns,” said Dr. Ana Langer, director of the Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Now we must focus on eliminating disparities and implementing the proven, cost-effective solutions that not only save lives, but create a virtuous cycle that transforms entire communities.”
The Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference will create a global conversation to understand and respond to the most urgent health needs of mothers and newborns, focusing on quality care, integration and equity.
“This conference is all about listening, sharing and learning from the expertise of the ‘implementation scientists’ on the ground,” said Joy Riggs-Perla, director of Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives Project. “These key managers and providers on the front lines of service delivery and program management often have the best insights. We must listen carefully to what they say about their experience and use this knowledge to refine and shape our work on behalf of women, children and families.”
Several major reports being released at the conference provide more details on what is needed to reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths globally.
Countdown to 2015, an annual accounting of progress and remaining gaps in 75 high-burden countries, found that although maternal and child survival improved markedly during the Millennium Development Goals era (2000-2015), equity of coverage of key interventions remains low in many parts of the world. Countdown also found that services requiring contact with a working health system have lagged the most, with family planning, pregnancy and childbirth services having large coverage gaps.
The Saving Mothers, Giving Life mid-initiative report reveals significant results in the first half of the five-year initiative: since 2012, maternal mortality has declined by 53 percent in target facilities of Zambia and 45 percent in Uganda, inspiring the public-private partnership to expand its integrated health systems approach into additional districts of Zambia and Uganda as well as Nigeria.
Also, findings from the Mesoamerica Health Initiative will be discussed. The Mesoamerica Health Initiative is an innovative public-private partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carlos Slim Foundation, Spain’s International Development Cooperation Agency (AECID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and seven countries in Central America, and the State of Chiapas, Mexico.
Aligned implementation of the Every Newborn Action Plan, Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality, and A Promise Renewed, three initiatives carried out under the Every Woman Every Child umbrella, will also be discussed during the conference.
“Healthy women and newborns contribute to a virtuous cycle whose impact is transformational and critical for sustainable development,” said Koki Agarwal of Jhpiego, director of USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program. “An unwavering political will and commitment to place women, newborns and children at the heart of development efforts will make possible a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”