Giant puppets promoting maternal, newborn, and child health. The question mark puppet represents the question of which African nation will get on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 5 of reducing maternal deaths. The other puppets depict Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika and Botswana President Ian Khama, whose countries have recently been declared on track to meeting Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing child deaths. Photo credit: Alain Anhes
"We deeply regret that the security situation in Kampala will now keep 10,000 children and adults from delivering lifesaving messages to African leaders," said Peter Nkhonjera, Save the Children's Uganda country director. "We must be mindful of public safety concerns. However, African leaders must address what unjustifiably remains the most dangerous day of all for children on this continent — the first day of life."
Every year more than 1.2 million African babies die within the first month of life, many in the first 24 hours after birth, from causes like childbirth complications, preterm birth and neonatal infections. Most of these deaths could be prevented if prenatal care and skilled attendance at birth and simple newborn care were more widely available.
These, together with postnatal care and access to very basic, inexpensive health services, could eliminate most of the continent's 4.4 million annual deaths of children under 5 and 265,000 maternal deaths. The largest killers of children are newborn illnesses, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.
The postponed rally was going to have featured huge puppets of two African leaders who have led their countries to successfully slash child deaths — Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika and Botswana President Ian Khama. Malawi and Botswana are two sub-Saharan countries recently declared to be on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 — reducing child deaths by two thirds of 1990 levels by 2015.
Only 10 African countries are currently on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 if they maintain current levels of progress. In addition to Malawi and Botswana, these include Cape Verde, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles, and Tunisia.
Malawi and Botswana are also among the few African Union member countries — only six out of 53 — to meet 2001 pledges at an Abuja, Nigeria summit to spend 15 percent of their national budget on health. The other countries are Rwanda, Niger, Zambia, and Burkina Faso, according to the 15% Plus Campaign.
Save the Children and a coalition of humanitarian organizations had planned Wednesday's rally to call on African leaders to:
• Develop and implement an accelerated national plan for reducing maternal, newborn and child deaths.
• Meet and exceed the 2001 promise at Abuja to spend at least 15% of the national budget on health care.
• Recruit, train and retain more doctors, nurses, midwives, and community health workers to help reduce the overall gap of 800,000 health workers in Africa by 2015.
• Ensure health care, including emergency obstetric care, is accessible for the poorest people and is free at the point of use for pregnant women and children under five.
Other coalition members include: Fair Play for Africa, Oxfam, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information and Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), WaterAid, the White Ribbon Alliance and local civil society organizations across Africa.
At the postponed rally, a third puppet with a large question mark in place of its head was to have represented the question of whether any African country will meet Millennium Development Goal 5 — reducing maternal deaths by three fourths of 1990 levels by 2015.
All countries of the world have endorsed the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations will host a September summit in New York to assess progress. The maternal-and-child-health-related goals have seen the least progress of the eight goals.
"Last month leaders of wealthy nations pledged additional support for maternal and child health at the G-8 summit in Canada," Nkhonjera said. "It's clear they must do even more if the world is to meet the Millennium Development Goals. But it’s also clear that African leaders must now step up and show they'll do their part by investing in strong national plans to end the needless deaths of millions of newborns, children, and mothers."
Source: Save the Children