New publication fosters country accountability, supports Global Strategy

For the past five years, FCI has been a key partner in Countdown to 2015, a global coalition of academics, governments, international agencies, health-care professional associations, donors, and NGOs that uses country-specific data to stimulate and support country progress towards achieving the health-related MDGs. FCI shares (with the secretariat of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health—PMNCH) overall responsibility for Countdown’s advocacy and communications, working with partners to ensure that Countdown’s data, analysis, and key messages are seen and used by policy makers  to effect real change.

Accountability for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health: An update on progress in priority countriesThis week, Countdown released a new publication, Accountability for Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival: An update on progress in priority countries, which contains updated profiles on high-burden priority countries that account for over 95% of the world’s maternal and child deaths.  The report will be launched at the 126th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which takes place in Kampala, Uganda next week. These profiles highlight how well each country is doing in increasing coverage of high-impact interventions — key elements of the reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) continuum of care — that can save the lives of millions of women and children. The charts and graphs in each country profile provide an easy-to-read, attractive, and succinct portrait of whether these high-burden countries are making progress (or not) in increasing women’s and children’s access to essential services like antenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, immunization, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

This publication is one of the significant contributions that Countdown is making to the global accountability agenda around the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, an unprecedented plan to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015, which was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010. The country profiles in this publication, customized to showcase the core indicators selected by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, are adapted from the full, two-page Countdown country profile, which Countdown produces on a roughly two-year cycle. Full country profiles will be included in Countdown’s 2012 Report, which will be published in June 2012.

Sample country profile from Countdown Accountability report: Burkina Faso
A Countdown country profile, from the Accountability report

FCI is also working on a number of other Countdown initiatives, including the launch of a new Countdown website and the development of a toolkit to assist high-burden countries in developing their own country-level Countdown conferences and publications.

Understanding cultures, improving reproductive health

In many developing countries, national health systems don’t always effectively reach certain groups of people with the information and services they need to stay healthy. Too often, the health services that are available are designed without sufficient regard for the cultures, beliefs, and traditions of those they  aim to reach, and the result is that essential information doesn’t get through to its intended audiences, and that urgently important health services don’t get utilized.  Many members of particularly marginalized groups — which can include teenagers who have left school or their home villages to seek work in the city, or indigenous populations living in poor, underserved rural communities — don’t know what they need to know about their sexual and reproductive health, and are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.

Fatimata Kané of FCI-Mali and Aboubacar Dembélé of AEJT—the Association des Enfants et Jeunes Travailleurs

FCI works with our local partners to address this challenge by developing culturally-sensitive programs for reaching vulnerable groups with the information and services they need. Working with out-of-school young people in the port city of Mopti, on the Niger River in Mali, West Africa, and with women and young people in remote indigenous villages in Ecuador, we have partnered with Interarts, with support from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), to promote sexual and reproductive health and prevent HIV.

Maritza Segura of FCI-Ecuador presents at Barcelona meeting

In mid-February, Fatimata Kané, FCI’s country director in Mali, and Maritza Segura, our national coordinator in Ecuador, together with representatives from our local partner organizations, presented this work at a conference in Barcelona, Spain. This meeting, entitled “Culture and Sexual and Reproductive Health—towards a new interconnection:  A day to think, discuss and act,” was organized by Interarts as an opportunity for 50 NGOs, development agencies, migrant organizations, health workers, anthropologists, and educational professionals to share best practices and exchange ideas on the links between cultural rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and health. Meeting participants emphasized that integrated programs must focus on community needs, guarantee health rights, and respect local cultures and cultural rights. Understanding a community’s culture is essential to any health project’s success and sustainability, and is particularly important in efforts to modify behaviors that may have a negative impact on sexual and reproductive health, enabling programmers to identify bottlenecks and address issues in a participatory way.

Carmen Inés Guaminga Muyulema of Ecuarunari—the Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador

For the Barcelona conference, the representatives from FCI-Mali and FCI-Ecuador were accompanied by youth leaders from FCI’s project partners: AEJT (the Association of Working Children and Youth) in Mopti, Mali, and Ecuarunari (the Kichwa Confederation  of Ecuador). The team from Mali described their work with young people in Mopti’s ‘informal sector’ (domestic workers, market vendors, artisanal apprentices, etc.), and with the traditional leaders, employers, and parents who can influence them, to raise awareness about the consequences of negative and high-risk practices and to encourage cultural change for better sexual and reproductive health. (At first, taboos about discussions of sexuality made it difficult to involve religious leaders in the project; by sensitively integrating culture and religion into our approach, however, FCI was able to facilitate constructive dialogue by showing that religious texts do not actually support female genital mutilation and other negative practices.) The team from Ecuador discussed their work with indigenous women’s and youth groups to identify the traditions, beliefs, and cultural factors that lead to increased vulnerability to HIV, and to strengthen cultural values that can help prevent HIV and its attached stigma in indigenous communities.

Mah Doumbia, a peer educator in Mopti, Mali, educates young women about contraceptive methods

 

Getting to Zero: World AIDS Day advocacy

Today, on World AIDS Day 2011, Family Care International has partnered with Save the Children to help policymakers across Africa understand and act on the urgent need to eliminate new HIV infections among children, and to provide comprehensive HIV services for their mothers.

Three decades into the AIDS pandemic, new HIV infections among children are virtually zero in high income countries. Yet in middle and low-income countries, an estimated 370,000 children were born with the HIV virus in 2009, while 60,000 pregnant women died because of HIV. “This is unacceptable. Urgent and exceptional efforts should be made to eliminate new infections among children and to keep their mothers alive,” said Thomas J. McCormack and Fatimata Kané, Country Directors in Mali for Save the Children and FCI, respectively, in a joint statement supporting the Getting to Zero campaign to eliminate new HIV infections. “Save the Children and FCI agree: Getting to zero is possible in Mali and in countries across Africa.”

Photo: UNAIDS/Getting to Zero

With over 2.5 million children and 1.4 million pregnant women living with HIV, action must be taken to ensure the survival of children and mothers. Weak health systems, insufficient numbers of health workers, limited health financing, and inadequate focus on health issues within national development frameworks all must be addressed urgently in order to save women’s lives, protect their health, and help them avoid passing on the virus to their children. This requires action by governments, in partnership with the private sector and development partners.

FCI and Save the Children are joining UNAIDS and a global coalition of NGOs in supporting the Global Plan Towards Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive.  The Global Plan has two important targets:

  • Reduce the number of new HIV infections among children by 90%
  • Reduce the number of AIDS-related maternal deaths by 50%.

African leaders have made a number of commitments to address HIV/AIDS among women and children, most recently at the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS in June, 2011, when the Global Plan was launched.

In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Kenya, FCI is working, in collaboration with many partners, to hold policymakers accountable for keeping these promises.  Increased efforts to eliminate new infections for children and keep their mothers alive are crucial to improving child survival and maternal health, and to achieving Millennium Development Goals 4, 5 and 6. FCI is proud to partner with Save the Children and other advocates around the world on World AIDS Day to urge policy makers and donors to help us “get to zero.”

FCI co-sponsors UN event on girls, women, AIDS

The International Peace Institute, in collaboration with FCI, the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations, and Women Deliver, hosted a policy forum entitled Prevention and Protection Save Lives: Girls, Women, and HIV on the sidelines of the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS on June 8th. This description of the event is cross-posted from the UNAIDS website.

HIV is now recognized as the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. The forum aimed to identify and strengthen the response to HIV, and to raise awareness about the interconnectedness of women’s health issues in relation to the broader development agenda.

In this light, the high level panel brought together Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN Women; Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director (Programs), UNFPA; Carmen Barroso, Regional Director, IPPF/WHR; Jan Beagle Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, UNAIDS; and Ms Lindsay Menard-Freeman, programme officer at Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, to discuss lessons learned, current challenges, and the path forward.

“Young people are now the actors, mobilising for prevention, taking ownership of the AIDS response and shaping the attitudes of future leaders,” said UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassadors Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Norway Mette-Marit who opened the forum. “We have to make sure that the next wave of leadership is equipped, engaged and sufficiently supported to maintain and develop the response.”

Photo credit: Women Deliver

Also participating in the discussion was UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, a strong women’s rights activist: “We have the knowledge, we have the treatment,” said Ms Annie Lennox and urged world leaders gathering at the High Level Meeting on AIDS to take action on women and girls: “This is our moment: Don’t let us down.”

The Executive Director of UN Women called for leadership on this: “We know what has to be done and we know what works. And we can do better to stop this epidemic. With political will we can create the fiscal space to make women and girls a priority,” said Ms Bachelet.

The discussion, moderated by James Chau, Goodwill Ambassador, UNAIDS and a journalist with China CCTV, highlighted that young women in particular are vulnerable to HIV.  As a result of a combination of biological and socio-cultural factors, nearly a quarter of all new global HIV infections are among young women aged 15-24. “Knowing your epidemic in gender terms is critical. Human rights, including the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and girls – in particular women and girls living with HIV – must be protected and promoted in all HIV and global health programmes.”

However, progress has been made. More than 60 countries have shown their commitment to gender equality by implementing the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls and HIV, engaging over 400 civil society organizations.

“It’s important to remember that young people are actors, and young people are asking for what they need,” said Ms Menard-Freeman. “Now that we are here [at the High Level Meeting on AIDS], we need the voices of young people to be heard.”

One of the critical examples raised as a model for a consolidated approach to women’s health was the United Nation’s Every Woman Every Child campaign. The campaign, launched during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, has so far seen a US$ 40 billion commitment by countries to improve the health of women and children. If implemented, it is estimated that the strategy could save up to 10 million lives of women and children by 2015.

The new UNAIDS Strategy 2011 – 2015: Getting to Zero [pdf] has made advancing human rights and gender equality for the HIV response one of its three key strategic directions, and is committed to ensure that the rights of women and girls in the context of HIV.