October 17, 2015

Progress within a Generation

Written by Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

This post originally appeared in Spanish on El Universal here. Reposted with permission.

melinda-gatesNot many events bring together everyone from Pope Francis to Beyoncé to talk about global development. But that’s exactly what happened last month when the world endorsed a new universal action plan to fight poverty and improve health. The fact that so many people, from so many backgrounds, wanted to be part of it is incredibly significant.

It was the clearest possible sign that the world now believes progress is possible on even the most challenging problems. And they are right to. Extreme poverty has been cut by more than half, child mortality and malaria deaths are down by half, and maternal deaths have been reduced by almost half.

But the world came together at the United Nations in New York because we know that we’re not done yet. That’s why we set ambitious but achievable new aspirations―the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)―to push progress even further, even faster.

Fundamental to success on this agenda will be improving the health and wellbeing of women and children. The end of poverty starts with them. So it is fitting that the first major development event after the historic UN meeting is the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference in Mexico City on Monday.

Every day across the world, 7,400 newborns die, almost all from preventable causes. And 800 women die each day of avoidable complications related to pregnancy and delivery. Getting those numbers down is an urgent priority.

Mexico is showing the way. By strengthening and investing in high quality, integrated care, the number of women dying in childbirth has fallen by 45% since 1990, and the number of newborns by 62%.Those are striking achievements. But there is more to do, because enormous disparities still exist within the populations of even middle and high income countries. In the United States, for example, maternal deaths more than doubled between 1990 and 2013.

The Mesoamerica Health Initiative―which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports along with the Carlos Slim Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the government of Spain and the governments of this region―was created toreduce health inequities in Central America and the state of Chiapas in Mexico. The initiative has achieved early success through establishing clear, attainable, yet ambitious goals with the countries and partners, focusing on performance improvement, and measuring and recognizing progress along the way. Today, almost two million women and children in the region are directly benefiting from the care and treatment they get from their primary care system: better-equipped health facilities, better-trained staff, and expanded community health programs to reach them where they live.

This is not only saving and improving lives, it is also the first step to building stronger, more prosperous communities. Because devoting resources to the health and wellbeing of women and children is one of the smartest economic investments we can make. Healthier women give birth to healthier babies. And better health leads to better education, which leads to better economic opportunities, which leads to broader prosperity for communities and countries.

When we invest in women and children, we are investing in brighter futures for people everywhere. This is the message I’ll be bringing with me to the conference.