“We do not need new legislation… we need affordable, effective, and scalable solutions,” said Shn Gulamnabi Azad, Minister of Health, India, at the opening ceremony of the first-ever Global Maternal Health Conference in New Delhi.
Co-hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force and the Public Health Institute of India, this three-day technical meeting builds upon the momentum of Women Deliver and the G8 summit by bringing together 700 researchers, program managers, advocates, media, and young people to exchange ideas, share data, develop strategies, and identify solutions for reducing maternal mortality.
In order to reduce India’s maternal mortality rates, Azad called for the repositioning of family planning programs to include maternal and child health and not limit the scope of services to population control as historically executed. Improving family planning and maternal health services must also address the reproductive health needs of adolescent girls and India is currently developing a new ministry that will target gender inequality, poverty, early child marriages, as well as other critical health issues important to young girls such as the dissemination of sanitary napkins.
“Although the legal age of marriage is 18, there are districts in India where 35 percent of the population is married between the ages of 15-18,” said Azad. During the side event Adolescent Girls: Change Agents for Healthy Mother and Child technical experts such as Anil Paranjap of the Indian Institute of Health Management presented scientific evidence that girls who marry between 15-18 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their early 20’s.
“We still have deep-rooted subordination that makes it very difficult for young women to realize their sexual and reproductive health rights,” said Sanam Anwar with the Oman Medical College. Interventions such as the UDAAN project–a private-public partnership between CEDPA and the Government of India–demonstrate promising solutions for empowering young people through the use of existing infrastructure. In collaboration with teachers, parents, principals, and students this project successfully increased leadership skills and improved youth knowledge on menstruation, health, friendship, peer pressure, early marriage, and reproductive health, said Sudipta Mukhopadhyay of CEDPA.
Empowering “young people” to improve maternal health also requires that the community support committed new thinkers and future leaders. The Young Champions of Maternal Health Program is a unique and refreshing group of young professionals from 13 countries dedicated to improving maternal health, and I look forward to learning how this new energy will further the maternal health agenda.
Calyn Ostrowski is the Coordinator of the Maternal Health Dialogue Series in partnership with the Maternal Health Task Force and UNFPA at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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Check back soon for the archived videos of today’s presentations.