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Wednesday, December 11, 2013
- As a three-day anti-poverty talkfest drew to a close Wednesday, the United Nations shifted its focus from the poor and the hungry to two of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society: women and children.
The mission: a “massive drive” to save the lives of more than 16 million women and children dying of deadly diseases every year, primarily due to the lack of basic medical care.
The means: pledges and commitments of over 40 billion dollars in funding over the next five years from over 35 governments, 15 charitable institutions, seven U.N. agencies, 13 private corporations and more than 50 non- governmental organisations (NGOs).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the joint programme as “a remarkable effort” by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to help developing nations meet two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): reducing by two-thirds the mortality rate of children under the age of five, and slashing maternal mortality rates by three-quarters.
The developing world, which is most devastated by these deaths, has a five-year 2015 deadline to meet the two goals.
The secretary-general said an estimated 26-42 billion dollars will be required annually during 2011-2015 to meet the global targets on women’s and children’s health.
As he launched the ‘Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health,’ Ban said: “The 21st century must be and will be different for every woman and every child.”
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS that “women who die are just the tip of the iceberg”.
Every year, she said, millions of women suffer injuries related to pregnancy and childbirth. One of the most severe is fistula: a devastating birth injury that often leaves women ostracised by their families and communities.
“We need more action. We have to strengthen health systems so they can deliver for women, when women are ready to deliver,” she added.
Obaid said the MDG lagging the most is the one on maternal health (MDG 5), which aims to reduce maternal deaths and ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015.
She pointed out that improving maternal health is often called the heart of the MDGs because if it fails, the others will too.
Most maternal deaths can be prevented – and this would save lives and bring an enormous gain in world productivity. Every year, the world loses 15 billion dollars in productivity due to maternal and newborn mortality, Obaid declared.
The world is young. Nearly half the world’s population is under 25 years, and their choices regarding sexual and reproductive health will shape the future of our world.
Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile who was named last week as the executive director of the newly-established U.N. Women, told reporters Wednesday she is very conscious of the challenges facing the United Nations in relation to women.
She listed a litany of woes: maternal deaths, rape and sexual assaults, domestic violence and gender discrimination, amongst many others.
Bachelet said she was also aware that in some countries women are invisible or treated as second class citizens.
“I am a very realistic person. I would do it wisely,” she said, referring to the battles ahead when her new office becomes operational in January next year.
She said her office will have a budget of about 500 million dollars annually as the minimum needed.
“I urge all member states to make this investment a reality by backing their political commitment with the needed funds,” Bachelet said.
Meanwhile, an international alliance was launched Wednesday to support reproductive, maternal and newborn health.
The alliance includes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Family planning plays a crucial role in improving the health of women and children throughout the world,” said USAID Administrator Raj Shah.
“By bringing the comparative advantages of country partners and donors through this alliance, we will bolster health outcomes in countries striving to improve the lives and health of its women, girls, and newborns,” he said.But Emma Seery, spokesperson for Oxfam, expressed doubts about the pledges and commitments made at the summit.
In a statement released Wednesday, she said: “We have learned to be sceptical of big announcements at summits, and we question how much of this money can possibly be new.”
What really counts, she said, is where the money is coming from, which means leaders going home and putting that money into national budgets.
Seery said an additional 88 billion dollars is what is needed from now to 2015 to meet the child and maternal health goals, and anything less than this is not going to be enough for the world’s poorest people.