Posted by: davidjolson | 05/21/2011

Ensuring accountability for women’s and children’s health

This is a guest blog by Maeve Shearlaw of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood in London and a member of the Global Health Council delegation to the World Health Assembly.

GENEVA — It’s my third and final day at the World Health Assembly. It’s a shame to be leaving when I’ve just about worked out where everything is! My final day was all about the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, launched last September, which mobilized commitments of over $40 billion to save the lives of 16 million women and children in the world’s poorest countries.

In the morning, I attended a workshop on the potential of increasing private sector support for the Global Strategy, then I then rushed back to the Palais des Nations to attend the technical briefing on the report from the Commission on Information and Accountability, which was tasked with providing concrete recommendations to track commitments already made to the Global Strategy. It was a busy session, as I thought it would be, so I arrived early to get a seat and an ear piece – essential to hear translations (WHA meetings are translated in up to eight languages at a time).

The Commission, co-chaired by President Kikwete of Tanzania and Prime Minister Harper of Canada, consisted of 30 experts from across sectors (government, civil society, UN organisations, the private sector and others) supported by two working groups – one on results, one on resources. Recognizing the urgency to address maternal mortality – we are less than four years away from the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals – the Commission’s report was put together in a record six months.

Under the heading Keeping Promises, Monitoring Results, the report outlines key indicators and measurements for progress on women’s and children’s health; proposes steps to improve health information, especially registrations of births and deaths in high burden countries; and encourages exploration into information technologies to improve access to reliable information such as resources pledged.

In her remarks, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan was keen to stress that these accountability recommendations were not “re-inventing the wheel” and that action and investment at the country level is what will underpin the success of the Global Strategy.

The session was also an opportunity for sharing next steps for the accountability report and the Global Strategy. We heard that the commission co-chairs will share the findings of the report at the next high level meetings that they are part of – Prime Minster Harper will present the report at the upcoming G8 in France and President Kikwete will present the report at the African Union Summit in the summer.

We also heard new commitments to the Global Strategy from 16 countries and it was great to see that 10 of these made specific references to midwives. We also heard about a $9.5 million commitment from the Government of Norway to an international multi-stakeholder plan to support the Global Strategy and its implementation. All in all, it’s great to see that there’s a still a lot of momentum behind this.

Now that the report is all but finalised and the Commission is being disbanded, we must look at what’s next.  There are some key areas where action is needed to maximise the impact of this report and the Global Strategy, which civil society can and will play a key role in:

–          Implementation: Developing a clear program of action is key to outlining what needs to happen at the national level, starting with the highest burden countries.

–          Engaging parliamentarians: The success of the Global Strategy goes beyond heads of state and ministers of health; parliamentarians have an oversight role within their own governments, approving health budget increases and ensuring they’re spent properly.

–          Analysing existing commitments:  We must hold governments and donors accountable for the $40 billion to ensure it doesn’t include double counting. The Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health is currently working on a report and we look forward to seeing it in September.

–          More health workers: Filling the global gap of 3.5 million health workers, including those with midwifery skills, will underpin the objectives of the Global Strategy, saving 16 million lives in the world’s 49 poorest countries.

You can see  a full report from the commission, including final drafts of the working papers and country case studies here.


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