Igniting national efforts to save lives: lunch with African heads of state

Edwinah Arwah Orowe is Advocacy Program Officer with FCI-Kenya, based at our office in Nairobi. Last week, she was one of three young people invited to represent African youth at a high-level ‘working lunch’ on the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), as part of the 20th African Union Summit. Here is Edwinah’s report:

Nearly thirty African heads of state attended this important side event; countries whose head of state couldn’t be present were represented by their Ministers of Health. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sat at the dais, together with Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund—UNFPA.  A range of other influential stakeholders also attended, including AU Commissioners, representatives of regional and international organizations, diplomats, and civil society representatives, so the table was set for a meaningful and important discussion. In his welcoming remarks, the African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, said that achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and of Africa’s post-2015 objectives depends on member countries addressing preventable maternal, newborn, and child death and illness.

This event was a celebration of all of the progress that has been made since CARMMA — a continent-wide effort to mobilize national action to save women’s lives — was launched in 2009. It was also, however, a call to press on with even deeper commitment, because it is still possible to achieve a 75% decrease in maternal and child mortality by the MDG deadline in 2015. Every speaker —from the Chair of the AU Commission to the UN Secretary-General — echoed the same call, which resonated throughout the room: no woman should die while giving life.

As the African Union celebrates its Jubilee, the gift of safe motherhood is a special one that African governments must give to African women. In Africa, giving birth is a celebration, and life itself is a celebration. Every African country must ensure that every woman has access to the skilled care that she needs, and that every woman can deliver her child in a setting where she is treated with dignity.

The fact that more than half of all African heads of state attended this working lunch demonstrates that there now is a real commitment, across Africa, to meeting the maternal health needs of women. The commitment by so many African leaders to re-ignite CARMMA is a crucial step in the right direction. Now, African women and young people need to see this commitment translate into real action.

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