This is a guest blog from Ruth Landy, a longtime advocate for women’s and children’s health, working for UNICEF, WHO, the GAVI Alliance and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
WASHINGTON, DC — A rainbow nation descended Monday on a sprawling convention center here to learn, share and galvanize action for global women and newborn health.
Celebrities, ministers, policymakers and advocates rubbed shoulders at Women Deliver — the largest meeting on women’s health and empowerment in more than a decade. It’s a three-day mega networking opportunity, where hopes and fears mingled in the minds of the more than 3,000 participants from 146 nations.
The fears: Donors in wealthy nations will retrench as they battle domestic recessions; advocates’ calls for an additional $12 billion needed yearly for maternal, reproductive and newborn health will go unheeded. Developing nations’ fragile, understaffed health services will continue to make pregnancy and childbirth a life-threatening experience for poor women. Progress towards gender equality and economic empowerment will remain agonizingly slow.
Yet it was hope which reverberated most strongly in the sessions at the conference, laced with a healthy anger and impatience for the world to finally “deliver” for its women and girls. Hope that an often fractured global health community is finally moving seriously towards an integrated approach: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a “joint action plan” to help save women and children by involving all actors.
Hope that political leaders at last understand the importance of placing women and girls at the center of their development initiatives. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to this at an afternoon session.
Hope that donors will put real money on the table, not just issue empty “commitments.” Melinda Gates made headlines at the conference with the announcement that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation she co-chairs will invest $1.5 billion over the next five years to support maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition programs in developing countries.
Calling this “a pivotal moment for women’s and children’s health” and saying “we finally have the world’s attention,” Gates promised the Women Deliver audience they could count on her to advocate with the world’s leaders on their behalf.
A critical window of opportunity lies ahead for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. In the corridors at Women Deliver, the sense of energy that traction is possible was palpable in the air.