10 Maternal Health Highlights of 2011

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Written by: Women Deliver


The following originally appeared on Women Deliver’s blog. It is reposted here with permission


This year has been one of forward momentum, innovative solutions and inspiring individuals. As 2011 comes to a close, it’s time to celebrate achievements and look at some of the most memorable milestones and events of the past year. Moving into 2012, we are armed with the knowledge of what success looks like. We must continue to work to ensure that girls and women are at the heart of development efforts, now and in the years to come.


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1. Ban Ki-moon Launches Expert Commission on Women’s and Children’s Health January 2011
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proven himself to be a champion for the health of girls and women, from the beginning of his Every Woman Every Child campaign to this year’s launch of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. With President Kikwete of Tanzania and Prime Minister Harper of Canada as co-chairs and a diverse group of 30 expert, cross-sectoral stakeholders including Women Deliver’s President Jill Sheffield, the Commission served as an important accountability mechanism for the maternal health field. With the presentation of its final report, Keeping Promises, Measuring Results, the Commission worked to ensure that countries and their partners are held accountable for reaching MDGs 4 and 5, and that information and financial flows are accessible and transparent.


2. The 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day: Spotlight on Inspiring People Delivering for Girls and Women March 2011

On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Women Deliver honored 100 of the most inspiring people fighting to save and improve the lives of girls and women. These 100 men and women– ranging from doctors to human rights activists, political leaders, economists, educators, journalists, philanthropists, and youth advocates–remind us that we can each make a real difference for girls and women.


3. World Population Hits 7 Billion August-September 2011
According to UNFPA estimates, the world population hit 7 billion in October. Three groundbreaking reports released this year bolstered the link between sustainability, human rights, development, and the health of girls and women.

  • The World Bank Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development focused on gender equality to enhance productivity, improve future development outcomes, and make institutions more representative of their stakeholders.
  • UNFPA’s 2011 State of World Population Report, People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, discussed the need for women, and young women in particular, to receive the highest standards of health care to fully give back to society and the world.
  • Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, Anand Grover, released a landmark report on the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including access to  safe abortion services.

4. GAVI Alliance Agrees to Provide Cervical Cancer Vaccines November 2011
In response to the approximately 275,000 cervical cancer-related deaths each year, the GAVI Alliance took the first steps to introduce Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. Although HPV vaccines are part of routine immunization in many high-income countries, they are largely unavailable in low-income countries. GAVI is currently negotiating with manufacturers to secure a sustainable price–once provided, up to two million women and girls in nine developing countries could be protected from cervical cancer by 2015. Other recent innovations and commitments focusing on cervical cancer were recently highlighted in Women Deliver’s report, “Saving Lives: The Road to Comprehensive Cervical Cancer Prevention in the Developing World.” For these millions of girls and women, the HPV vaccine is so much more than just an injection–it is a sign of hope, and a promise that a long, healthy life is not a privilege, but a right.


5. Key Conferences Convene and Move the Agenda Forward May-November 2011
This year’s United Nations General Assembly Special Session focused on non-communicable diseases (NCD’s), and featured a week of inspiring events related to the health of girls and women. Women Deliver was pleased to join a global task force dedicated to advocating for a gender-based, lifecycle approach to NCD prevention and treatment. During this week, the UN Secretary General’s Every Women Every Child initiative hosted a high-level event to commemorate their first anniversary, which showcased over the more than $40 billion worth of commitments to maternal and child health made in the past year. Several additional high-level events were convened this year:

6. World Leaders and Organizations Recognize the Power of Youth – June-October, 2011
Across the world, meetings, conferences, and initiatives focused on the need to involve youth, promote youth issues, and focus on securing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people as a key to development. To engage high-level policymakers and decision-makers, the UN held a High-Level Meeting on Youth that focused on the theme: “Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,” and the second annual G(20)irls Summit was held in Paris, France, where 21 young women produced recommendations for the G20 leaders. To engage youth voices, Women Deliver and Conversations for a Better World co-hosted a blog series for young people to share their stories on World Contraception Day. To engage partners and organizations, the “Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage,” was launched by The Elders to convene organizations working to end child marriage all over the world.


7. Merck & Co. Launches 10-year, $500 Million Initiative – September 2011
In an exciting move by a private sector company, Merck & Co. announced the launch of “Merck for Mothers”, a ten-year, $500 million initiative that will apply Merck’s scientific and business expertise to increase access to family planning and combat the two leading causes of maternal death, post-partum hemorrhage (PPH) and preeclampsia.


8. New Technological Solutions to Save Lives – May-August, 2011
There is more work than ever before to harness technology to improve the lives of girls and women. This May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a public-private partnership using mobile technology to send health information to expectant mothers and scale up existing mobile initiatives. That same month, the low-cost drug misoprostol was added to the World Health Organization’s list of Essential Medicines for prevention of post-partum hemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal deaths. Early in 2011, a Grand Challenge call, “Saving Lives at Birth,” asked for submissions about innovative prevention and treatment approaches for maternal and newborn health. Over 600 incredible ideas were received, with 19 seed and three transition grants awarded to the most compelling proposals.


9. Gates Awards $12 Million to Support the Maternal Health Task Force September 2011
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $12 million grant to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) to host the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), an initiative established by EngenderHealth in 2008. With this support, the MHTF will move into its next phase of expanding research on maternal mortality and ensuring that maternal health issues are center stage on the development agenda.


10. Maternal Health Goes Primetime – December, 2011
Maternal health was a high-profile topic in the media this year. This spring, Al Jazeera, the Oprah Winfrey Network, PBS and ABC all featured maternal health-related films and programs, including the television debut of Every Mother Counts founder Christy Turlington’s powerful documentary No Woman, No Cry. Diane Sawyer hosted a special edition on the ABC show 20/20, Making Life: A Risky Proposition, which  helped raise awareness of ABC News and the UN Foundation’s Million Moms Challenge, a newly launched initiative to raise awareness through social media. Finally, Robin Lim, an internationally renowned midwife, was named the CNN 2011 Hero of the Year. “Today on our earth, 981 mothers in the prime of their life will die- and tomorrow again, and yesterday,” Lim told the audience at the award show. “And I’m asking you to help change that.”


From all of us at Women Deliver, thank you for an amazing 2011, and we look forward to working with you in 2012 and beyond.


Did we forget a major maternal health event or milestone? What do you think were the highlights of the year? Leave your ideas and answers in the comments below.