Progress is fast, but not fast enough: Taking stock of progress on Women’s and Child health

In the first blog from his series from the UN General Assembly in New York, Steve Lewis reports on progress on Women and Children’s health in the last year.

It was impressive to find a room-full of global health leaders at 8.30am on a Sunday morning, meeting to discuss progress on health indicators. The presence of a welcoming breakfast was a clever inducement to attend on time. The other attraction was a range of high level speakers, such as Dr Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Amina Mohammed, the UN special advisor on the Post-2015 Development Framework.

The session, organised by The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH)described the progress around global Woman’s and Child Health as ‘mixed’. There are both disappointments and room for optimism in terms of achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – to reduce child and maternal mortality, respectively. The positive news is that the number of children dying each year continues to fall. The new figures show that the number of children dying every year dropped from 6.6 million (in 2012) to 6.3 million in 2013. The annual rate of reduction is faster than ever before (tripling since the early 1990’s). However, the negative news is that these MDGs are unlikely to be met on time – lagging furthest behind of all the MDG targets.

In 2000, world leaders set the target of reducing child mortality by two-thirds from 1990 level to 2015 deadline, and also aimed to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters. These were ambitious targets, but considered to be achievable.  Now, one year away from the deadline, we see that unless the current rate of progress is sharply increased, they will not be achieved.

More positively, financial support for maternal and child health continues to increase, with both donor funding and domestic expenditures increasing in the areas of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH). Speaking on behalf of the PMNCH, Dr Carole Presern, the director, said that “progress has accelerated in recent years, suggesting that further gains are possible with continued, intensified actions”. So despite missed milestones so far, progress continues at an increasing rate.

Richard Horton from The Lancet had the challenging task of presenting the PMNCH accountability report. To summarise, there are three key areas that now need to be the focus of work on maternal and child health.

Firstly, there remain “massive inequalities in intervention coverage and health outcomes,” as the hardest to reach continue to be left behind. Secondly, partners must scale up the most cost-effective, highest impact interventions, such as vaccines and treatments against pneumonia and diarrhoea. Ms Anuradha Gupta from GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, therefore emphasised the key importance of the GAVI funding replenishment conference to be held in Berlin in January. Finally, data must be collected to ensure every stakeholder is accountable, including donors, recipient countries and international partners.

Participants seemed confident that these three things together will continue the accelerated progress we see now on maternal and child health.  In this way we will ensure MDG’s 4 and 5 are achieved as soon as possible.

By Steve Lewis – Global Health Advocacy Manager for RESULTS UK

Useful twitter links:

Steve Lewis – @owstonlewis

HEART – @HEART_RES

Carole Presern – @CarolePMNCH

Richard Horton – @richardhorton1

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