Although the 15th ordinary summit of the African Union has adopted maternal and child health and development as its theme, attention has shifted to regional security -- especially the conflict in Somalia -- since the summit opened with the foreign ministers meeting last week.
But Jean Ping, the chairperson of the AU commission, downplayed the issue, saying that maternal and child health was still a priority of governments.
"We haven't neglected the theme, but you cannot address maternal and child health if you don't have peace," Mr Ping said, adding that with thousands of women still dying in childbirth, the Heads of State will be looking for tangible solutions to address the problem.
Meanwhile, the European Union commissioner for development Andris Piebalgs will also address the Heads of State today when he is expected to stress the need for concrete action on maternal and child health.
Mr Piebalgs said saving children and mothers from dying needlessly, and the right to health for everybody is a priority of the European Commission.
"Today 11 million children under the age of five and more than half a million pregnant woman die in the world every year. We are all committed to reducing these shocking rates by two thirds by 2015, but progress is too slow," he said.
Slow pace of progress
Mr Piebalgs explained that despite the slow pace of progress, the continent can still speed up the process to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
At today's summit, he will also stress the need to deliver on the commitment of the African Union Heads of State in 2001 to spend 15 per cent of annual budgets on health and to work towards replacement of out-of-pocket payments with other more equitable financing mechanisms.
Under the Abuja Declaration of 2001, African countries committed themselves to allocate up to 15 per cent of their national budgets, excluding donor contributions, to the health sector.
Source: The Nation (Nairobi, Kenya)