UN call for sustainability, strengthening of health systems

Some ministers, ambassadors, senior public officials, and civil society representatives have called for the sustainability and strengthening of health systems, especially in Africa where the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, could cause a major setback in the actualisation of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, targets.

The call was made in New York during the 69th session of the United Nations, UN, General Assembly.

At the breakfast meeting- a countdown to the 2015 MDG targets, Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organisation, said that while progress had been made for women and children, the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, crisis in West Africa was a reminder “that even excellent progress can be so fragile.”

Along with other speakers, including Julia Duncan-Cassell, the Liberian Minister of Gender and Development, Ms. Chan emphasised the importance of building and strengthening health systems to withstand crises and ensure that results are sustainable.

Ms. Duncan-Cassell also noted that women make up nearly 75 per cent of Ebola fatalities in Liberia, because it was often women and girls who cared for the ill and washed the bodies of the deceased.

She also noted that the collapse of the health system had grave implications for maternal health, as women were unable or unwilling to give birth in health facilities with skilled birth attendants.

The importance of strengthening health systems, as well as of determining factors for health such as poverty reduction and female education, was reinforced by Dr. Luis Huicho, who presented preliminary findings of a countdown to 2015 in-depth country case study that he is leading in Peru.

This study, according to him, seeks to understand and explain Peru’s success in reducing its rates of maternal, new born and child mortality between 2000 and 2012.

Also presented at the breakfast was new countdown analysis of financial flows for reproductive, maternal, new born and child health, RMNCH, which showed that, while aid for RMNCH increased during 2011-2012, continued increases in both official development aid and in-country investments were needed in order to accelerate progress towards MDGs 4 and 5.

Bob Orr, Assistant-Secretary General of the UN and a key leader of the Every Woman Every Child movement, emphasised the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon’s commitment to women’s and children’s health and his conviction that women and children had to be “at the front of the queue, not at the back of the MDG train.”

Top of mind for all participants was how women’s and children’s health would feature in the post-2015 development landscape and the global health architecture to support it.

For the first time in a public forum, panellists and attendees discussed the current plans to develop a Global Financing Facility, GFF, hosted by the World Bank, to better coordinate and leverage financial resources for reproductive, maternal, new born, child and adolescent health in the 2015-2030 period.

Speaking on behalf of the World Bank, Tim Evans, briefly described the proposed facility, and expressed great optimism saying, “We have a historic opportunity to bend the curve and eliminate preventable child and maternal deaths within a generation.”

While not the only solution, he suggested that the GFF would accelerate progress by pooling funding, leveraging other financial tools and mechanisms, and simplifying and streamlining the global RMNCH landscape to reduce the application and reporting burden on countries.

Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health of Rwanda, enjoined the panel on financing for greater accountability and equity to make a powerful demand from the donor community to respect country leadership in planning, to reduce the burden in reporting requirements of countries, and to work together to invest in national health systems in a more holistic manner.

“Ask us what we need and we will tell you; don’t go and speculate. We have a good plan and we know our needs. The global community must be more accountable on coordination. We are disrupted by you in our work,” she said.

Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of the Lancet, provided an overview of the iERG’s Every Woman Every Child: Post-2015 Vision report along with a proposed new framework for a sustainable approach to improving women and children’s health.

He warned that, “the landscape for women’s and children’s health is about to undergo a seismic shift,” calling for action not paralysis in the face of uncertainty.

He said, “Sustainability is about paying as much attention to the future as we do to the present… It is about the value we put on our lives and on the lives of our children.”

Stakeholders this week in New York, said they would heed these words as they look to help shape a set of sustainable development goals, which leaves no woman, child or adolescent behind.

Key findings and recommendations showed both the progress that had been made and the continued and intensified effort that was still needed for women and children.

With under 500 days left until the end of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, and with one year left to shape the sustainable development goals, these reports showed that stakeholders were at a critical junction for women’s and children’s health.

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