This post was originally posted on haba na haba, hujaza kibaba–and has been adapted for the MHTF Blog
One of the most salient admissions I heard during the Women Deliver 2010 conference in Washington DC (June 7-9) was that the major challenge facing improvements in maternal health is a lack of political will. Kathleen Sebelius, the US Secretary for Health and Human Services, explained that the problem with reducing maternal mortality is not with the lack of knowledge or interventions, but the political will to put that knowledge to action, the will to make maternal mortality a priority of governments, the will to stand up and say that the lives of women matter, and we MUST do something about it.
I spent three days hearing about proven interventions – improving human resources for health so that more clinics and facilities will have trained birth attendants and midwives presiding over deliveries, expansion of in-service training to include Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC) to more professionals and thus more clinics, wider distribution of clean delivery kits, immunization, kangaroo mother care, exclusive breast feeding, access to safe abortion, family planning, and antenatal care. The steadfast and committed people working in the field of maternal health know what to do, and how to do it. Every day, nearly 1,500 women die giving life, and the global health community knows how to prevent almost 1,300, or 90%, of those deaths. But do they have the power to demand and receive the funds from their governments to scale-up these interventions—to make them accessible to the most marginalized populations? Do they have the power to make maternal mortality a national (or international) priority? Do they have the power to make their voices heard?
I find it remarkable the way other similar causes have been able to garner immense support—and financial backing. LiveSTRONG is a striking example. Lance Armstrong and his team have done an extraordinary job of raising awareness, corporate dollars, and determination to find a cure for cancer. TO FIND A CURE. I think it is wonderful that so many organizations’ efforts and resources are being poured into identifying a cure for cancer—but I also wonder, how can it be that we already know how to solve the problem of maternal mortality and morbidity yet hundreds of thousands of women continue to die every year because the global community has refused to prioritize the health of the poorest and most marginalized women in the world?
All of this points to the awful reality that in many parts of the world, the lives of women are seen as less valuable. However, at Women Deliver 2010 and the Annual Global Health Council meeting the week after, I witnessed unprecedented collaboration and momentum to change that reality from within the field and beyond. As we approach 2015, the make it or break it year for the Millennium Development Goals, our collective voice is loud and clear. Now more than ever, it is time to make the final push to achieve MDG-5. I hope that the world’s politicians will be held accountable for the funds they promised at the G8 and G20 meetings—and that those funds will go towards evidence-based interventions. At Women Deliver and at the Global Health Council meeting, I met many remarkable maternal and child health practitioners. The brains, the brute, and the determination are all there on the practitioner side. What the global health community needs now is for our politicians to stand beside us, to trust in our evidence-based interventions, to let us save over one thousand women’s lives every day.
Be sure to check out Kate Dilley’s blog, haba na haba, hujaza kibaba.