As world leaders gathered at the UN for a special event on achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) last month, there was much to celebrate. Some of the MDG targets – on poverty reduction and safe drinking water, for example – have been reached ahead of the 2015 deadline. But on MDG 5, which addresses maternal mortality and reproductive health, progress lags shamefully behind.
According to the Every Woman Every Child Independent Expert Review Group, “MDG 5 is the most off-track Millennium Development Goal of all. The failure to make more rapid progress on reducing maternal mortality is the most serious wound on the body of global health.”
The nations of Africa are farthest from achieving the targets set in MDG 5; only three African countries –Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Egypt – are currently on track.
To address this problem, more than a dozen African leaders and diplomats met in New York in advance of the special event. Led by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the newly appointed executive director of UN Women, and Joy Phumaphi, chair of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health(GLC), the meeting was organized by GLC and the International Women’s Health Coalition. The goal: to assess the challenges, strategize solutions, and mobilize new support for reproductive health in Africa.
Big Problems, Basic Solutions
The challenges to achieving – and one day replacing – MDG 5 are daunting. Though maternal mortality has declined by nearly half since 1990, some 800 women die each day in pregnancy and childbirth – one every two minutes. The vast majority of those deaths are entirely preventable. More than half take place in Africa.
Why has progress stalled? “We took our eye off the ball,” Joy Phumaphi told the assembled leaders and diplomats. In recent years, she explained, African governments and donors have focused on HIV/AIDS and malaria, while neglecting primary health care. “Maternal and child health were once at the center of health care in developing countries. They no longer are.”
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