There is a sense of timelessness in resplendent Arusha, Tanzania, the venue of the second Global Maternal Health Conference. Not so in the hallways of the conference meeting where there is a palpable sense of urgency to do more for maternal health.
During my time at the conference, I have been struck by four main impressions:
First, there is a sense that progress has been made. Globally, maternal mortality has dropped by roughly 50 percent between 1990 through to 2010. While this is good news, there is also a clear sense that we, maternal health professionals, are not moving as quickly as we expected.
Second, conference delegates are already thinking about the post Millennium Development Goals era. There is a sense of apprehension that maternal health will not receive the support it truly needs in the post MDG era. Humanity cannot afford any loss of momentum for this critical issue. The halls are buzzing with ideas about what a post-MDG agenda might look like—and the attention maternal health may or may not receive.
Third, there is a sense that much more needs to be done to improve quality throughout the continuum of care to increase and sustain the utilization of maternal services. Big questions are being raised: How can we improve quality of care? What needs to be done to be sure that respect for women is incorporated into these improvements at every stage? How might we take into consideration the preferences of women, families and culture? Improving quality of care is an area that clearly needs much more attention and investment.
Fourth, many people are talking about the need to apply the evidence generated from research more sensibly and proactively. Context by context, we must do more, and do better to figure out what works, why, how, and at what scale. Above all, we must then act on it—translating what we know into measurable results for the health of women around the world.
These are some of the key themes that I have heard at the conference here in Arusha, Tanzania, one of humanity’s earliest dwelling places. Tanzania was one of the first places on earth that our ancestors were first confronted and affronted by the tragedy of maternal mortality. And here we are today, still struggling to eradicate preventable maternal mortality.
The time is now to maintain and build on the momentum for improving global maternal health. Communities, activists, researchers, policymakers and politicians, unite!
Check out the conference website to access archived videos of conference sessions.
Join the conference conversation on Twitter: #GMHC2013.