UN General Assembly: Celebrating Progress and Looking to the Future

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By: Jill Sheffield, Founder and President, Women Deliver

This post was originally posted on Women Deliver

While deep into the planning stages of Women Deliver 2010, my phone rang and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office was on the other end. I was stunned, and also thrilled—it’s not every day that the head of the UN calls to ask to be part of an event. But the Secretary-General’s steadfast dedication to the health and well-being of girls and women has been clear from the beginning.

In 2010, Ban Ki-moon opened the Women Deliver conference by telling over 3,400 participants from around the world that no woman should die while giving life, and announced the groundbreaking Every Woman Every Child initiative to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of all stakeholders, and to the leadership shown by the Every Woman Every Child campaign, there has been a new surge of investment in and awareness of some of the most neglected areas of maternal and child mortality, including access to family planning and preterm birth.

As a supporter of the Every Woman Every Child initiative, we’re proud to join the more than 260 partners, including 70 governments, who have committed to advance the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. At its launch in 2010, Women Deliver pledged to keep up the pressure to improve women’s and children’s health and ensure the global spotlight stays on those who have power to keep girls and women alive and healthy. We’ve kept this promise through ongoing advocacy with young activists, civil society, government leaders and the private sector – working at both the regional and global levels.
Two years later, more than $10 billion US has been dispersed as a part of the Every Woman Every Child initiative, and the results are clear—maternal deaths have dropped from 360,000 in 2008 to 287,000 in 2010, and deaths of young children have fallen from 7.6 million deaths in 2008 to 6.9 million in 2011.

New commitments continue to be added, and countries in every region are making an impact on the ground. Bangladesh’s government, for example, is working to double the percentage of births attended by skilled health workers and halve the unmet need for family planning by 2015. They have made a valiant start!  Liberia aims to double the number of trained midwives in the country, and to provide free universal access to health services, including family planning and emergency obstetric care. Bravo!

The corporate sector has stepped up to the plate, and their partnership has resulted in serious progress. Merck for Mothers has launched a 10-year, half-billion-dollar initiative addressing the two leading causes of maternal death—post-partum hemorrhage and preeclampsia—through increased access to life-saving interventions, product innovation, and global advocacy.

The success we’ve seen so far is encouraging, and gives us hope that our goals are within reach. Yet as long as women and children continue to die from preventable causes, our work is not over. Achieving our goals by 2015 requires that we accelerate rates of decline in maternal deaths from 3.7 to 5.5% per year, and in child deaths from 2.5 to 4.4% per year. This means ensuring that all girls and women have access to safe, quality health care, and to the family planning information and services they need to plan their own fertility. Even today, more than 200 million women still have an unmet need for modern contraceptives.

At the UN General Assembly this week, world leaders will meet to evaluate progress and strategize for the future. This is an exciting time, with plans for a new development framework underway as the MDGs expire in 2015. Next May at the Women Deliver 2013 conference, we’ll be convening thousands of experts from around the globe to strategize how best to ensure girls and women are a top priority in this new framework, and in development efforts to come.

When Ban Ki-moon told the crowd at the Women Deliver 2010 conference that “delivering for girls and women is men’s work, too,” this was no empty promise. We have seen in the past three years that success requires all partners, across genders, generations, sectors and countries, to get onboard. Together, we can and will make a difference, for every woman and every child.

This blog is published in collaboration with a larger campaign spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and conducted by Heads of State and Government; Heads of U.N. Agencies; CEO’s; Leaders of Civil Society Organizations; and other global leaders who have demonstrated their leadership in the health field, in support of Every Woman Every Child. Learn more at www.everywomaneverychild.org.

Flickr photograph by Sam Hurd.