This morning’s opening plenary session opened with a video, #Moments Matter, which laid out the task that the maternal, newborn and related communities now face: ensuring that every woman is empowered to decisions about her own health, and that every newborn and child has the chance to grow up healthy and educated. Throughout their welcoming remarks, MHTF Director Ana Langer, Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin and Mercedes Juan Lopez, the Secretary of Health for Mexico, echoed this theme: the maternal and newborn health communities now face a critical moment for action. It is fitting, pointed out Melinda Gates, that the issues shaping maternal and newborn health should be the focus of the first major global conference after the UN endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, because investments to improve the health of women and newborns must be at the heart of the overall agenda. As she said, “We know the headlines: maternal mortality, cut by nearly half; child mortality, cut by half, extreme poverty cut by half,” but that means that we are only halfway there.” She concluded: “This is the time to reach those left behind in the wave of progress we started at the beginning of this century.”
Ana Langer also highlighted the timeliness of the first ever maternal and newborn health conference, pointing out that “When I trained as a neonatologist in Mexico, I was struck by the seemingly obvious connection between newborn and maternal health,” as newborns would not be healthy if their mothers were not. But, she pointed out, this was not so obvious to those who made policies. Further, she called for a broad view of maternal and newborn health beyond the moment of labor and delivery, to the issues that affect girls’ and women’s well-being, noting, “In particular, recognizing adolescents’ unique needs” is an “essential part of our unfinished agenda.” This thought was further echoed by UNFPA’s Babatunde Osotimehin, who highlighted the need to address gender inequities as a core strategy to advancing maternal and newborn health and achieving the SDGs overall. It was also a key point in remarks by Mexico’s Secretary of Health, Mercedes Juan Lopez, who pointed out that while there have been many advances in expanding health coverage and improving outcomes, in recent years, Mexico continues to struggle to address the drivers of adolescent pregnancies. This focus on adolescents served to reinforce another critical theme for the four speakers: narrowing gaps and advancing equity in quality of care and outcomes requires both capturing and acting on data, while staying carefully attuned to the context and structural factors that shape health disparities beyond the health sector.