|Tanzanian Prime Minister Edward Lowassa (right) and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam (far left) follow proceedings during the opening ceremony of the partnership meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.|
By Georgina Mtenga and Dominick Mwita
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, 19 April 2007 – Political leaders, health professionals, researchers and activists are meeting here this week for the first-ever assembly of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
The gathering has brought together more than 300 delegates from 120 partner countries to discuss the urgent need for action and resources to reduce mother and child mortality. The assembly is hosted by the Government of Tanzania and was opened yesterday by Prime Minister Edward Lowassa.
In a keynote speech, Mr. Lowassa urged African leaders to translate their political commitment to Millennium Development Goals 4 (reducing child mortality) and 5 (improving maternal health) into financial commitment by increasing health-care spending to at least 15 per cent of their overall national budgets.
Progress in these areas has been slow in some countries – mainly due to the lack of political action in mobilizing resources required to scale up coverage of essential, cost-effective interventions. There is evidence that more than two-thirds of newborn deaths, for example, could be prevented by improving access to existing interventions that do not reach the poor.
“Achieving the MDGs, of course, requires sizeable investment of resources. But of all the MDGs, MDG 4 and 5 are among the most affordable, as there are many low-cost, low-tech and highly effective interventions,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam, who also chairs the Interim Steering Committee of the partnership.
“The $9 billion per year of additional investment that we need to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 – to save the lives of 11 million women and children and to improve the health and well-being of hundreds of millions – is among the best bargains in human development,” Mr. Gautam added in his opening remarks.
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam explains a point during a press interview prior to the opening ceremony of the partnership meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.|
Pregnancy is not an illness
Over the past five years, some nations in Africa have shown significant progress in reducing child deaths. Tanzania is among the top five that have seen a 30 per cent reduction in infant and under-five mortality rates. Others countries that are experiencing a decline are Madagascar, Eritrea, Malawi and Mozambique.
Despite these gains, however, maternal mortality has remained stagnant in many places, including Tanzania. Ambassador Gertrude Mongella, the current President of the Pan-African Parliament who was also appointed Champion of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Tanzania, pointed out that pregnancy is not an illness.
“In the 21st century women should not have to lose their lives in the process of giving birth,” she said. “Yet maternal mortality ratios on the continent have remained stubbornly high. Several critical issues must be addressed if maternal mortality ratios are to be brought down.”
Issues on the agenda
The Dar es Salaam forum kicked off with a call by keynote speakers for the partnership to a make a case to political leaders and decision-makers that investment in achieving MDGs 4 and 5 is the sine qua non for success in all of the development goals.
Major issues to be discussed in the course of the meeting include:
Established in 2005, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health consists of more than 120 members representing partner countries; UN agencies such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund and the World Bank; non-governmental organizations; health professionals’ associations; bilateral donors; foundations; and academic and research institutions from around the world.