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Young child survival and development

In New York, UN Commission convenes to increase access to life-saving health products for children and women

By Anja Baron

NEW YORK, USA, 24 May 2012 – The United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children convened in New York this week to finalize recommendations for urgent action to help women and children around the world.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on a UN Commission convening in New York to improve access to health commodities for women and children.  Watch in RealPlayer


The commission is part of the ‘Every Woman Every Child’ initiative, launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010, to improve health care for women and children around the world. Co-chaired by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, the commission aims to increase access to affordable and effective medicines and health supplies for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Grim realities with simple solutions

Every year, 287,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and almost 1.4 million children die from pneumonia. To that end, the commission’s work focuses on 13 life-saving commodities that too often do not reach the women and children who need them most, including antibiotics to treat pneumonia, zinc and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea, and oxytocin to stop mothers from bleeding after childbirth.

“The commission is very important because the aim is to come up with a limited number of very concrete proposals to how we can reduce the number of children and women that are dying, partly with problems connected to childbirth and pregnancy and partly because of diseases that kill so many children before the age of 5,” explained Mr. Stoltenberg. “And we know that it is actually easy to reduce the number of deaths because by providing more medicines, which we already have, to more people we can save the lives of millions of women and children all over the world.”

© UNICEF Video
Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg addresses the United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children in New York. Beside him is UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

In his address to the commissioners, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged the grim realities. “Every day 800 women and more than 20,000 children die from preventable causes. Every two minutes, a woman dies at what should have been a joyful moment. And millions of women are unable to choose if, when and how many children they should have because they lack the modern ways of contraception. This tells me we are still not doing enough.”

Clear goals

To meet these challenges, the commission has been focusing on three main areas – market shaping, regulatory environment, and best practices and innovation – to help shape the best way forward.

Oliver Sabot, Executive Vice President of Global Programs at Clinton Health Access Initiative explains the process. “What we have set out to do in this group is to pursue the relatively basic solutions: fixing the distribution systems to get the medicines to children and mothers, building the awareness and the education of health providers to effectively provide them, and then building the awareness of the mothers themselves so that when the child is sick or when they themselves need care they receive the treatment that they need.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0156/Quarmyne
Habsatou Salou and her 6-month-old daughter Maniratou attend a nutrition screening in Niamey, Niger.

‘An opportunity we cannot afford to waste’

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, who is Vice-Chair of the commission, sees an opportunity for action. “If these 13 essential health commodities are properly distributed and used, we can save the lives of some 2.5 million women and children by 2015. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.” 

As Mr. Sabot puts it, “We’ve done the impossible in global health over the past decade. We’ve taken antiretroviral treatment for people with AIDS, something that many said was not going to be possible to roll out to patients in Africa, and we’ve reached close to 7 million people now. We’ve distributed bed nets to almost every family in Africa who needs them… to protect against malaria. And yet we have these very simple, highly effective products that cost, in many cases, less than 50 cents – less than a cup of coffee – and can save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and mothers, and we are not getting them out to those in need.”

Based on this week’s meeting, the commission will present their final recommendations later this year. These recommendations will include scaling up innovative technologies, as well as creating demand for and providing better access to vital medicines and health supplies. With its work, the commission hopes to not only tackle treatable diseases but also to prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies, protect 120 million children from pneumonia and ultimately help save a total of 16 million lives.



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