By Amy Boldosser-Boesch and Mary Kinney
Amy Boldosser-Boesch, is Interim President and CEO of Family Care International (FCI) and Mary Kinney is Specialist with Save the Children, Saving Newborn Lives. This post originally appeared on the Healthy Newborn Network blog.
The global health community gathered on Tuesday evening, May 19 to recognize the importance of integrating maternal and newborn care and to celebrate the release of the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) Progress Report May 2015 and Strategies Toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM). The side session at the 68th World Health Assembly Integrating maternal and newborn care: Strengthening the continuum was standing room only as a panel of champions for integration of maternal and newborn health took the stage. Co-sponsored by the Governments of Malawi and Cameroon, this event was planned with the support of a wide range of partners.*
Opening the event, Rajiv Bahl, Acting Director MCA, WHO, noted the how the unacceptable levels of maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirths impede the realization of healthy and sustainable societies. Yet 15 of the 18 countries, with the greatest burden of deaths and mortality rates, have taken concrete action. As moderator, Robin Gorna, Executive Director of the Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health, underlined the importance of hearing from countries on success factors particularly through improving the quality and coverage of care through integrated strategies and programmes. She reflected on the synergies between these two strategies advancing efforts: ENAP discussed and endorsed at the World Health Assembly in 2014; and the EPMM launched this year at World Health Assembly.
Three Ministers of Health shared perspectives on how implementation of the Every Newborn Action Plan together with maternal health interventions had improved health outcomes for mothers and babies in their countries. Cameroon’s Minister of Health, André Mama Fouda, noted that improving newborn health and preventing stillbirth is integrally linked to improving women’s health throughout the lifecourse. The Minister raised one of the key themes of the evening-the role of midwives in providing these essential, quality and integrated maternal and newborn health services. He noted he was happy and proud that new midwives were being trained in his country. Malawi’s Minister of Health, Jean Kalilani, highlighted efforts to increase access to family planning, reduce the age of marriage, and address cervical cancer as key strategies to reduce maternal mortality. These strategies will be linked to Malawi’s soon to be launched national Every Newborn Action Plan, developed in response to the government’s realization that Malawi was leading the world in pre-term births. Peru’s Minister of Health, Aníbal Velásquez Valdivia, discussed his country’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme, which includes free access to basic health care for children younger than 5 years and for pregnant women, while giving priority to vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty.
UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO representatives then shared how they are working across the continuum of care to strengthen care for women, newborns and children. Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid noted that over half of all maternal, newborn and child deaths occur in fragile and humanitarian settings, and the need for urgent action to provide quality care to women and babies in those settings. Calling for every birth to be counted, she also made a plea for greater attention to stillbirths and the enormous impact on women and communities. While panelists and audience members shared the specific perspectives from across governments, donors, healthcare professionals, advocates and youth, the core message was strikingly the same: health outcomes for mothers, their newborns and children are inextricably linked but strategies and programs to improve RMNCH are often planned, managed and delivered separately, and this must change. Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, called for an end to fragmented programs that separate the mother and child and challenged all in attendance to finally put women and children at the center of all development programs. Nina Schwalbe, Principal Adviser, Health, UNICEF, reminded us that we can’t take care of the child if we don’t take care of the mother.
Concluding the session, Marleen Temmerman, Director RHR, WHO, used photos of the reality on the ground as a sobering reminder that ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths requires action now by everyone, everywhere.
As we prepare for the launch of the new Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents Health and the Sustainable Development Goals, there is an increased focus on reaching every woman, newborn, child and adolescent everywhere. The event, and the ENAP and EPMM strategies, demonstrate the importance of an integrated approach to improving quality services, a growing commitment to work and investment across the continuum of care, and propose complimentary targets to get us there. As a global health community success will rely on supporting an integrated approach in research, policies, health services, and advocacy for maternal and newborn survival — one that helps to finally put an end to the preventable deaths of women and their babies.
*Supporting partners included: