Maternal and Child Health Makes Strides at G8

Maternal health advocates made more progress than expected at the G8 Summit, gaining critical support from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, host country Japan, and UK's First Lady Sarah Brown.

Group of Eight summit here is over and people are tallying wins and
losses. As usual, there’s good news and sort-of-bad news for us in
the maternal and newborn health community — but I’m an optimist and
my glass is always a bit more than half full.

The big issues here were climate
change, the global food crisis and the political situation in Zimbabwe,
but the NGO Health Group press conference this morning was very well
attended. We’re in the game, we made progress — more than most expected,
less than some had hoped. Now to take things forward — faster!

First the good news:

  • This was the first
    time the G-8 agenda addressed maternal, newborn, and child health (Millennium Development Goals
    4 and 5).
  • Host country Japan
    championed our issues and recognized the importance of taking action
    on maternal and newborn health as key to reducing poverty.
  • UN Secretary General
    Ban Ki-moon gave impressive early prominence to maternal health in his
    statement to the press at the opening. Considering the issues competing
    for attention, this was monumental.
  • The final G-8 communiqué
    (in paragraph 46c) spells it out: "Progress toward achieving MDGs
    4 and 5 is seriously off track…the continuum of prevention
    and care…should include a greater focus on maternal, newborn and child
    health. Reproductive health should be made widely accessible." That’s
    just what we want the world to hear.
  • An accompanying
    document, The Toyako Framework for Action on Global Health, outlines
    recommendations from the G-8 Health Experts Group to the G-8 leaders,
    and includes better, significant, and stronger language related to maternal,
    newborn and child health. The reference there follows the call for strengthening
    health systems.
  • Sarah Brown, wife
    of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, confirmed her status as a major
    advocate for our issues. At the Ladies’ Lunch yesterday, she talked
    about maternal ill health and mortality and said she hoped others would
    join in. And last night, she stood out when the G-8 leaders wished upon
    a star, marking the Tanabata festival. (A legend says two stars normally
    separated by the Milky Way are allowed to meet only once a year, on July 7. The Japanese make wishes on that day, writing messages on strips
    of paper and tying them to bamboo branches.) Brown’s wish was to see
    the end of mishaps related to pregnancy and childbirth. Go, Sarah Brown!
  • The G-8 concluded
    with a commitment to accountability and to including global health as
    a standing agenda item in the G-8 summits.

Now the not-so-good news:

  • Related language
    in the whole health section of the final G-8 Communiqué is weak and
    convoluted: "G-8 will take concrete steps to work toward improving
    the link between HIV/AIDS activities and sexual and reproductive health
    and voluntary family planning programs, including preventing mother-to-child
    transmission, and to achieve the MDGs by adopting a multi-sectoral approach
    and by fostering community involvement and participation." Really,
    couldn’t they have done better than "work toward improving"?
  • The financial commitment
    needed to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 ($10.2B additional annual spending for
    maternal, newborn, and child health) is missing.
  • We lost important
    language calling for universal access to reproductive health services,
    the very language that is unpopular with the U.S. government.
  • The expected commitment
    of US$60 billion over three years to fight HIV and AIDS was revised
    to be $60 billion over five years. This was a major frustration and
    disappointment to the HIV and AIDS people here, who surround me where
    I work.

As I said, now comes the adding-up.
We’ll be posting a scorecard that our NGO Health Group devised, a
tally of G-8 achievements and failures that got major attention at our
press conference this morning.

Overall, the conference was
a good start for us. The groundwork has been laid and the door is open — we
just need to pick up the speed of our walk through it.

Check out the following related resources:

The Final G-8 Communiqué
on Development and Africa

Toyako Framework for Action on Global Health