Wednesday, 28 July 2010 06:43

AFRICA: Press Release: African Leaders Pledge Action on Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health


Save the Children commends African heads of state for pledging at the African Union summit to take concrete actions to reduce maternal and child mortality in their countries.  Now they must follow through, the international humanitarian agency said.

Every year in Africa 4.5 million children and 265,000 mothers die.  The vast majority of these lives could be saved through access to very basic health interventions that are proven and often very low-cost.

According to Chikezie Anyanwu, Save the Children’s Africa Advocacy Advisor:  “The maternal and child health principles African leaders have committed to are excellent.  Now they must follow through.  If they dedicate the resources promised and employ the strategies outlined here, African leaders could save the lives of millions of children and mothers and dramatically boost the development of their nations and the continent.  We are prepared to work with the leaders to make their decisions a reality for African people.”

The declaration of the 15th African Union Summit—which is themed “Maternal, Infant, and Child Health and Development in African”—included a recommitment to meet the 2001 pledge at Abuja, Nigeria to devote 15 percent of national spending to health.  Only three African countries met that target in the last budget year, according to 2010 World Health Organization figures.  That is down from six African countries the year before.

The document also included a pledge to strengthen health systems to provide comprehensive, integrated, maternal, newborn and child health care services, with a recognition that countries must act to address health worker shortages.  There is an estimated shortage of 800,000 health workers across the continent.

In the declaration, leaders said their country would deploy community health workers to “mitigate the human resource crisis in the Health sector.”  Save the Children agrees that mobilizing community health workers, and especially women workers, is a high-impact, low-cost strategy to get basic lifesaving health services to mothers, newborns and young children.

Save the Children also commends the leaders for pledging to reduce out-of-pocket health expenses through initiatives such as waiving fees for pregnant women and children under 5.  All African countries should do just that.

According to Anyanwu:  “Most importantly of all, African leaders have acknowledged what is in fact the silver bullet needed to end maternal and child deaths – political will.  The solutions to ending these preventable deaths are well-known.  If the leaders exercise the will to take concrete actions as they’ve said here, there’s no reason Africa cannot save the lives of millions of its mothers, newborns and children.”

A recent study published in the Public Library of Science medical journal estimates that in Africa 85 percent of maternal, newborn, and under-age-5 deaths could be prevented if all mothers and their children received a full package of essential health care that includes ability to plan and space pregnancies, skilled birth attendance, access to emergency obstetric care, early and effective postnatal care, immunizations and treatment for leading child killers pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.

That means that each year the lives of about 4 million African women, newborns, and children could be saved if already well-known interventions reached 90 percent of families on the continent. Africa is home to around 12 percent of the world’s population, but has only 3 percent of the world’s health workers and bears the burden of at least half the world’s child and maternal deaths.

Other positive elements agreed to by African Union leaders are:

-      their call for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to  include a new window for funding for maternal and child health and for the fund to be replenished;
-      their commitment to establish an African Union task force on maternal, newborn, and child health that would monitor data and track progress on meeting agreed targets.

source: Save the Children

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