What happened to the G8’s commitment to maternal, newborn & child health?

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer, Global Advocacy, at Family Care International.

When the G8 Summit wrapped up in Deauville, France last week, many maternal, newborn and child health advocates were left saying, “What a difference a year makes.” 2010 was a year full of new commitments for improving maternal, newborn and child health. The G8 launched the Muskoka Initiative and committed US$5 billion for maternal, newborn and child health with promises to raise an additional $10 billion by 2015; the African Union hosted a Summit on Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development which resulted in new commitments including the Africa wide launch of the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA);  and the MDG Summit included the launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health by the UN Secretary-General and 90+ stakeholders who together made US$40 billion in commitments to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world.

At the 2011 G8 Summit hosted by France, however, maternal, newborn and child heath was nowhere on the official agenda and warranted only one paragraph in the final 25 page declaration. In that paragraph, the G8 leaders reaffirm their commitment to “improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, most notably through the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health launched in 2010,” and assert that, “We are delivering our Muskoka commitments.” While advocates welcomed the reaffirmation of the G8 commitments on maternal, newborn and child health, questions remained about whether the G8 governments are indeed delivering on those commitments. Advocacy groups and mainstream media criticized the G8’s 2011 Deauville Accountability Report which was meant to review the progress member countries made in meeting their commitments on food security and global health. Advocates from ONE and Oxfam called the report a “whitewash,” since a review of the numbers indicated that, after accounting for inflation, the G8 was actually $19 billion away from meeting $50 billion target it claimed to have met.  The New York Times wrote in an editorial , “It is disheartening to know how low a priority the wealthy countries still put on development in the poor world. What’s more, the sleight of hand by the G-8 is unlikely to inspire much confidence in future promises.”

As noted by our colleagues at the Global Health Council in their official statement, there were a few bright spots for global health in general. The G8 did reaffirm its commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the GAVI Alliance, which works to expand access to vaccines in the poorest countries. The G8 also indicated that it will implement the recommendation of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health which is tracking pledges to the Global Strategy and the Muskoka Initiative. Dr. Carole Presern, Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health welcomed this announcement saying, ”The G8 members are playing a key role in seizing the opportunity afforded by the Commission recommendations to ensure that commitments to women and children are honored, and the resources are used in the most effective ways to prevent deaths and save lives.”

Commenting on the outcomes of the Summit, FCI’s President Ann Starrs summed it up best. “The G8’s reaffirmation of the commitments they made last year at Muskoka is welcome, as is their support for the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. But these statements really amount to nothing more than a promise to keep a promise. Meanwhile, women, newborns, and children in developing countries are dying every few seconds from causes that are routinely prevented or treated in the G8 countries. To make a real, lifesaving difference, the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies must move from simply making statements supporting accountability to delivering the investments they have promised in the high-impact, low-cost interventions that prevent needless maternal and child deaths.”

For more updates from global health advocates at the G8 Deauville Summit, click here

FCI helps launch Ecuador’s first Sexual and Reproductive Rights Observatory

Maritza Segura is FCI’s national coordinator in Ecuador.

FCI, along with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Center for Research, Promotion and Popular Education (CIPEP), provided technical support to Ecuador’s National Health Council (CONASA) for the launch of Ecuador’s first National Sexual and Reproductive Rights Observatory.

The meeting, titled Towards the Ecuadorian Center of Human Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health, is taking place in Quito from May 30th to June 1st. Participants include representatives from other observatories in the region, including Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, and Uruguay, who are sharing their experiences and lessons learned.

The meeting launches and seeks to strengthen the national Observatory for monitoring and reporting on the rate of compliance with health and reproductive rights, especially in relation to ethnic groups, diversity, gender, and generational issues.

CONASA is a representative body of members of the national health system, comprised of public, private, autonomous, and community health sectors. This meeting will include the nomination, by civil society participant organizations, of a citizen’s oversight board to participate in the construction and methodological definition of the Observatory.

It is expected that, in the medium and longer term, the Observatory will help lead to the reduction of maternal mortality in Ecuador, and will thereby help the country to achieve its targets under MDG (Millennium Development Goal) 5.

FCI is grateful for the generous support from the MacArthur Foundation.


FCI apoya la conformación del primer Observatorio de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos del Ecuador

Maritza Segura es coordinador nacional de FCI en Ecuador.

FCI, junto al Fondo de Población de las Naciones Unidas (UNFPA), la Organización Panamericana de la Salud (PAHO), y el Centro de Investigación, Promoción y Educación Popular, apoya al Consejo Nacional de Salud (CONASA) de Ecuador para conformar el primer Observatorio Nacional de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos.

Del 30 de mayo al 1ro de junio de 2011 se lleva a cabo en Quito la reunión “Hacia el Observatorio Ecuatoriano de Derechos y Salud Sexual y Reproductiva”, con la participación de representantes de otros observatorios exitosos de la región con el fin de compartir experiencias y lecciones aprendidas, entre ellos de los observatorios de México, Guatemala, Chile y Uruguay.

El encuentro tiene el objetivo de fortalecer la propuesta nacional de un Observatorio para la vigilancia e información sobre él índice de cumplimiento de la salud y los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, especialmente en grupos étnicos, diversidades, por género y generación.

En este marco, el CONASA, como organismo de representación de los integrantes del Sistema Nacional de Salud, conformado por entidades públicas, privadas, autónomas y comunitarias del sector salud, ha previsto que el evento incluya la nominación, por parte de las instituciones y organizaciones de la sociedad civil participantes, de un consejo ciudadano de veeduría que participarán en la construcción y definición metodológica del Observatorio.

Se espera que, a mediano y largo plazo, el accionar del Observatorio ayude al Ecuador a reducir la razón de mortalidad materna y, así, a lograr las metas del ODM 5.

FCI agradece el generoso apoyo de la Fundación MacArthur.



WHO approves misoprostol to prevent hemorrhage

Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer in FCI’s Global Advocacy program.

Last week, the WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines approved the inclusion of misoprostol for the prevention of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) on the WHO List of Essential Medicines.  PPH,or severe bleeding following childbirth, is one of the major causes of maternal death and disability in developing countries. The Expert Committee noted that “600 micrograms [misoprostol] given orally is effective and safe for the prevention of PPH” in settings where oxytocin, currently the standard of care to prevent PPH, is not available or feasible. Moreover, the committee moved misoprostol from the complementary to the core list of essential medicines, validating the drug’s important role in women’s health.

Structure of the misoprostol molecule/www.3dchem.com
Structure of the misoprostol molecule

Misoprostol, a prostaglandin, offers several potential advantages over oxytocin for managing PPH in resource-constrained settings. It is widely available in developing countries, is relatively inexpensive, can be transported and stored without refrigeration, and can be administered without an injection.

The addition of misoprostol to the WHO List of Essential Medicines is an important step forward in making the drug more widely available for PPH, and provides a critical opportunity for disseminating clear, evidence-based information to ministries of health, regulatory authorities, health system managers, health workers, and other audiences.

Strong, effective, and consistent advocacy at the global, regional, and country levels is critical for improving women’s access to misoprostol for both prevention and treatment of PPH. FCI is working with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to develop an evidence-based advocacy agenda and communications plan to harmonize and disseminate messages on the use of misoprostol for preventing and managing PPH.

  • For more information on FCI’s work on misoprostol for PPH, click here.

FCI co-sponsoring NYC event on indigenous women

FCI, together with partners UNFPA, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, the International Indigenous Women’s Forum—FIMI, and Spanish International Development Cooperation Agency—AECID, are organizing a side event as part of the 10th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The side event — Indigenous Women, Health & Rights: Strengthening indigenous women to realize their right to reproductive health — will feature presentations by indigenous women leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. Speakers will discuss ways in which the “Indigenous Women, Health & Rights ” initiative, launched by UNFPA and AECID in 2008, has strengthened the capacity of indigenous women’s organizations to advocate for safe motherhood, and will discuss advances, challenges, and plans for the future. The event will be held on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at the Beekman Tower Hotel, NYC, from 1 to 3PM. English/Spanish translation will be available.

FCI está co-organizando con UNFPA, el Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas, el Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas—FIMI y la Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo—AECID, un evento paralelo en el marco de la 10 ª Sesión del Foro Permanente para las Cuestiones Indígenas de las Naciones Unidas. El evento, titulado “Mujer Indígena, Salud y   Derechos: Fortaleciendo a las mujeres indígenas para la realización de su derecho a la salud reproductiva” contará con presentaciones a cargo de mujeres líderes indígenas de Ecuador, Bolivia y Perú. Las lideresas hablarán sobre lo que ha significado para ellas y sus organizaciones la iniciativa “Mujer Indígena, Salud y Derechos“, lanzada por el UNFPA y la AECID en 2008. La iniciativa se ha centrado en el fortalecimiento de las organizaciones indígenas para abogar por sus derechos reproductivos, en especial la salud materna. El evento tendrá lugar el martes, 17 de mayo 2011, en el Beekman Tower Hotel, Beekman Ballroon, Nueva York, de 13 a 15 horas. Se facilitará interpretación simultánea: español/inglés.

Meeting with Maternal Health Champions

Martha Murdock is Vice President, Regional Programs at Family Care International.

About a year ago, the global change organization Ashoka partnered with the Maternal Health Task Force to launch a program called the Ashoka Young Champions for Maternal Health. Fourteen young social entrepreneurs, from 12 countries around the world, were selected through a rigorous online competition to be the first of “a new generation of global leaders dedicated to improving maternal health.” The Young Champions have spent the past nine months as interns gaining hands-on knowledge about maternal health and change-making, mentored by Ashoka Fellows in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Last week, I had the good fortune to spend some time with the Young Champions, at their end-of-program conference (the “Young Champions Future Forum”) in Accra, Ghana. I heard about the incredible range of innovative social ventures that they had the opportunity to develop  — from a program that reintegrates obstetric fistula survivors using community-based credit schemes, to a project that develops links between traditional birth attendants and skilled obstetric care providers in rural areas where use of institutional delivery care is low. Over three days of fellowship and robust debate, these young innovators discussed how to ensure community ownership of social change initiatives in isolated rural areas, the most effective strategies for conducting advocacy and outreach using social media, and the challenges faced by new professionals as they enter the maternal health field. As someone who’s been doing this work for more than two decades, I found the experience — the energy and commitment of my young colleagues, and the originality and quality of their thinking — to be frankly inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of these Young Champions, whose work I expect will make real impact in our field.

After the Ghana conference, I moved onto Ouagadougou, where I spent four days meeting with the team at FCI-Burkina Faso. They are doing exciting work, and I’ll report on developments there in a follow-up post.

  • Read blogs by the Ashoka Young Champions for Maternal Health

NYC screening of No Woman No Cry film

Next Monday evening, May 2nd, the Paley Center for Media will host a screening of Christy Turlington Burns’ documentary No Woman, No Cry, which illuminates the global tragedy of women dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by NBC News anchor Brian Williams and featuring FCI president Ann Starrs along with Christy Turlington Burns and Dr. Suellen Miller of the University of California-San Francisco.

In her deeply moving film, Christy relates how, after a childbirth complication during her own first pregnancy, she wanted to learn more about maternal health around the world. She shares the powerful stories of at-risk pregnant women in four parts of the world: a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum in Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.

If you’re in or around New York, please join us for this important event. Here are the details:

The Paley Center for Media
25 West 52nd Street, NYC
Monday, May 2nd @ 6:30 pm
Tickets: $20 (Paley Center members: $15)
More info here.

No Woman, No Cry will have its TV debut on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network next Saturday, May 7th, at 9:30 pm Eastern time.

World Malaria Day 2011: Malaria a leading killer of pregnant women & children

Today is World Malaria Day. Malaria, a disease caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes, disproportionately kills pregnant women and children. In fact, malaria is the leading killer of children in Africa. Globally, malaria continues to kill more young children than any other single disease, claiming the life of a child every 45 seconds. Pregnant women have decreased immunity which means they are more susceptible to contracting malaria. If a pregnant woman is infected with malaria, her risk of having a miscarriage, stillbirth or a premature or low-birth weight baby all increase.

Malaria is preventable. Using insecticides or sleeping under long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets greatly reduces the risk of being infected with malaria. There are also preventive treatments that can be given to pregnant women and infants to prevent complications from malaria.  Malaria is also treatable with a variety of anti-malarial drugs available. All of this means that the almost 800,000 deaths annually from malaria are needless. Globally malaria deaths dropped by over 20% between 2000-2009-that means we know what works and need to invest in continued prevention and treatment.

In honor of World Malaria Day, consider donating an insecticide-treated bed net which could save the life of a mother or child. Nothing But Nets makes the process quick and easy. If you’re in NYC you can check out their video playing on the giant screen in Times Square today, or you can see it on their website and become a champion in the fight against malaria yourself.

And for more information on malaria and what’s being done to fight it, check out some great pieces on the Huffington Post today:

Happy World Malaria Day by Mandy Moore

Malaria: Solid Success but No Time for Complacence by Jeffrey Sturchio

Mali: One of Many African Malaria Success Stories by David Olson

Defending women’s rights at the CPD

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

As I wrote in a previous post, the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) held its annual meeting last week in New York. The CPD’s mandate is to further the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, a groundbreaking 1994 agreement that confirmed the central place of women’s rights and access to reproductive health in population and development policy.

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin
UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin

Remarks by UN leaders made it clear that the stakes in these discussions are very high. In his report to this year’s CPD, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that current funding levels for family planning, reproductive health services, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS are so low that they jeopardize the fulfillment of both the ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs noted the cost-effectiveness of investments in family planning: “For every dollar spent on modern contraceptives, $1.30 is saved in maternal and newborn care.”  Babatunde Osotimehin, the new UNFPA Executive Director, stated it clearly: “Investing in the health and rights of women and young people is not an expenditure, it is an investment in our future.”

After a long week of intense  negotiations lasting late into the night, the Commission’s final Resolution reaffirmed the ICPD Programme of Action; it also welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which aims to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality.  Support for implementation of the Global Strategy was also reiterated by a number of governments in their formal statements to the CPD.

For those of us who work on global health, the connection between women’s reproductive health and rights and broader development and population issues is an obvious one.  Unfortunately, a small but vocal minority of governments led by the Vatican, which is not a member state but has observer status at the United Nations, refuse to recognize that interconnectedness and opposed rights- affirming language in negotiations on the CPD Resolution for this year. These opposition governments at the CPD raised repeated roadblocks in negotiations on language around women’s rights — and particularly references to gender, abortion, sexuality, reproductive rights,  comprehensive sexuality education, and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people— challenging international commitments that date as far back as the ICPD in 1994.  Their stalling tactics included repeatedly questioning the  definitions of such basic terms as “reproductive health commodities,” “fertility,” and even “girls.”  One African CPD delegate put it best: “A small minority are intent on ignoring the facts on the ground and the need of working on measures to save the lives of women.” In the end, the Commission safeguarded the rights of women and young people to access education and lifesaving services in its final Resolution, but this result did not come without a struggle. This year’s experience shows the urgent need for continued advocacy to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights, both for their own sake and because they are crucial for sustainable development.

The theme of the 2012 CPD will be “Adolescents and youth.” A number of youth-led advocacy groups were key players at this year’s meeting. (You can read about the CPD Youth Caucus here, and can also see video of their powerful statements at the CPD.) The opposition is sure to be out in force again next year, opposing policies that educate and empower young people, and FCI will work in close alliance with youth-led groups and other advocates from around the world to ensure that the development goals laid out at the ICPD, including universal access to reproductive health, finally become a reality for all women and young people.

New focus on stillbirths

Each year, there are more than 2.6 million stillbirths — over 7,000 every day. About 98%of  them occur in developing countries, and two-thirds to families living in rural communities. What this means is that many of the same factors causing maternal deaths also lead to stillbirths — and that the solutions to both problems are largely the same. Every pregnant woman needs accessible, high-quality antenatal care, skilled childbirth care, and emergency obstetric care. These basic, essential services are crucial to preventing stillbirths, saving women’s lives, and preventing childbirth injuries like obstetric fistula, as well as vastly improving survival statistics for newborns. Once again, we see that it’s all about the continuum of care.

This week, The Lancet published its Stillbirth Series, which highlights the rates and causes of stillbirth, explores cost-effective interventions to prevent them (as well as maternal and neonatal deaths), and lays out the critical actions needed to cut stillbirth rates in half within 10 years. It also features comments from parents, illustrating “the unique tragedy for families of the birth of a baby bearing no signs of life.”

1,000 economists call for financial tax to support development efforts

In a letter  released yesterday, a thousand eminent economists from more than 50 countries called for the establishment of a global Financial Transaction Tax.

Writing to finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) countries, representing the world’s leading economies, and to Bill Gates, who has been asked by the G20 to examine innovative ways to fund development and climate change, the economists wrote:

This tax is an idea that has come of age. The financial crisis has shown us the dangers of unregulated finance, and the link between the financial sector and society has been broken. It is time to fix this link and for the financial sector to give something back to society. Even at very low rates of 0.05% or less, this tax could raise hundreds of billions of dollars annually and calm excessive speculation… This money is urgently needed to raise revenue for global and domestic public goods such as health, education and water, and to tackle the challenge of climate change.

Together with advocacy partners from a range of health and development issues, FCI has been working for two years to build support for a tax on financial transactions (widely known in the U.K. as a “Robin Hood Tax“), with proceeds going to fund global health and poverty efforts. While the effort has not yet picked up steam, or attracted government support, in the U.S., there is significant momentum in Europe, where both France (host to this year’s G20 summit) and Germany have expressed strong support for the idea.