Posted by: davidjolson | 09/08/2010

Keeping a better watch over maternal, newborn, child health

This is a guest blog written by Arianna Levitus, policy and advocacy associate with PATH, one of the sponsors of the event held today.

WASHINGTON, DC — “This is a pivotal month, in a pivotal year, when the world will take stock of promises made to women and children,” Sallie Craig Huber, global lead for results management at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), announced today to a standing room-only crowd at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Ms. Huber was introducing a panel of speakers to address the challenging topic of improving monitoring, transparency and accountability for maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). The three panelists who followed Ms. Huber demonstrated the need to improve the way we monitor and evaluate programs for maternal and child health to capture and use data that can inform meaningful and effective program design and policy change.

The briefing came at a crucial time. As world leaders plan to meet later this month to take stock of progress towards the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the United Nations Summit, the MNCH community is acutely aware that progress toward MDG goals four (reduce child mortality) and five (improve maternal health) are lagging.

Marge Koblinsky, senior technical advisor for Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), suggested that current maternal health indicators are not enough. They are difficult to measure and do not always paint a clear picture of the actual health outcomes of our interventions, she said.

Ms. Koblinsky provided data showing that other indicators, such as contraceptive prevalence rates, were more closely matched to maternal mortality outcomes.

Ellen Starbird, deputy director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), suggested that it is time to “get under the numbers” to determine why we are not getting the outcomes we want. Describing the important role that monitoring and evaluation plays in the president’s Global Health Initiative (GHI), she said that it is time for innovation in monitoring and evaluation and that the GHI principles of “innovation and research” and “Improve metrics, monitoring, and evaluation” are related.

Local context and health system capacity are crucial, according to Monique Widyono, program officer for gender, violence and rights at PATH. If we want to increase coverage of services in an area, we also need to think about workforce training and the quality of those services. Ms. Widyono encouraged more attention to be paid to the development of local and sustainable research capacity that would allow for more evidence-based decision making at the country level.

The discussion was hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar’s Global Health Initiative, along with the Maternal Health Task Force and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  It was the third in a series of policy briefings about under-explored issues in maternal, newborn and child health, cosponsored by the Global Health Council, MSH and PATH.

A recorded webcast is available for viewing.

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