Partners’ Forum on Women’s & Children’s Health – Day 2

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By: Tim Thomas, Senior Advisor, MHTF

Day two of the Partner’s Forum on Women’s and Children’s Health in Delhi turned out to be much more substantive than day one. The opening plenary obliquely titled Accelerating Action for Women’s and Children’s Health was chaired by the thought-provoking editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, who suggested that in spite of the PMCH’s successes to day there is much more work for them to do in terms of building policy consensus throughout the continuum of care.

The keynote was delivered by Prof. Zulfiqar Bhutta from Aga Kahn University. Bhutta is rapidly becoming the go-to public spokesman expert on maternal, newborn and child health and his powerful presentation today indicated that he is expanding his public persona to advocacy of essential linkages between MNCH and the entire cycle of poverty conundrum. He issued an eloquent plea for this assemblage to step out of the conventional MNCH box and address the dire need for proper sanitation services and clean water among the world’s poor, the chronic undernutrition of girls and women in developing countries, and the enduring insufficient access for the world’s women to comprehensive family planning services and supplies. He made me think of Wendy Graham’s mantra at the Global Maternal Health Conference: “Context, Context, Context.” Bhutta’s echo is “Integrate, Integrate, Integrate.”

Another compelling presentation in that morning plenary came from an one of the few new stakeholders in the PMNCH house: Narayan Sundararajan, Chief Technology Officer at Grameen-Intel Social Business, a division of the vast Intel Corporation. He introduced himself as a “private sector technologist and public health expert wannabe.” His premise was simple: data proves that increased broadband access improves public health outcomes. But he didn’t shy away from the challenges that face the m-health and information and communications technology sector: establishing standards among service providers, developing sustainable m-health business models, and ensuring access to the most remote and marginalized. Narayan and several of his colleagues from the ICT private sector stayed throughout the Forum; I hope our community sees fit to engage and welcome them — their expertise and infrastructures are sorely needed.

The final plenary was expertly chaired by Dr. Julio Frenk, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, who was charged with managing a panel of no fewer than 10 all of whom had something to say about accountability. Simply the composition of this panel (representatives from government, the UN, a private foundation, the community-sector, etc.), it’s easy to deduce that MNCH is struggling with finding a focus for accountability. Most of the panelists suggested, either directly or indirectly, that the success of the S-G’s Strategy and the $40m commitment of mostly old but some new money that came with its launch at the MDG Summit last September teeters on these sectors’ ability to create and adhere to an accountability framework that has broad-sweeping buy-in from all stakeholders. A daunting task, and one that is unlikely to be accomplished by 2015 when the MDGs come due. But that’s just one date. Our challenges will be with us in 2016 and beyond so its worth ensuring that what’s pledged today really does turn into action tomorrow. And not a day later.