Washington. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on governments around the world to kick-start efforts to improve women’s health or risk missing a UN-set deadline to cut maternal deaths.
Speaking on Monday at Women Deliver, the largest international women’s health conference in a decade, Ban said women’s and children’s health issues had been the slowest of the UN Millennium Development Goals to make progress.
He unveiled a “joint-action plan” to help save women and children. The plan calls on governments, nonprofit aid groups, and the private sector and UN agencies to provide money and services and to develop policies that will help countries reach goals set previously to reduce death rates among mothers and children.
“Our joint-action plan demands that all women and children should benefit from the relatively simple, proven health practices and known technologies that save lives,” Ban said.
Among the UN targets — set in 2000 by 189 countries — is a commitment to efforts to reduce by 75 percent the number of women who die in childbirth. The deadline to achieve the goals is 2015.
Reports published last month by The Lancet, a British medical journal, say that with just five years to go to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, only about two dozen countries are on track to cut maternal deaths by 75 percent.
“Women are dying because their lives are not important enough to policy makers around the world,” said Guttmacher Institute president and chief executive Sharon Camp.
She noted that while less than $12 billion was spent last year to promote maternal health — a sum she said should be at least doubled — “Wall Street bosses paid themselves twice that in bonuses last year.”
Studies say that although few countries are on track to meet the Millennium goals for women and children, progress has been made on both fronts.
In April, for the first time in decades, researchers reported a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying annually from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980. The findings, published in The Lancet, challenged the prevailing view that high rates of maternal mortality were an insoluble problem.
“The state of mothers and children worldwide is brighter than it was during the period that gave rise to the Millennium Development Goals,” it said.
Camp cited Rwanda’s success story, saying that if the African country was able to reduce maternal mortality substantially in the 16 years since the genocide, “it’s not unreasonable for the rest of the world to do the same.”
Similarly, a Lancet study published online in May found that death rates in children under 5 had dropped in many countries at a surprisingly fast pace from 1970 to 2010. The study predicted that worldwide, 7.7 million children would die this year — still an enormous number, but a vast improvement over the 1990 figure of 11.9 million.
Ban said this was the time to build on growing global momentum to save women and children.
Associated Press & Agence France-Presse