Reproductive Health

Global Maternal Health Gets 2nd Big Checkup

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A second major global gathering on women's maternal health wrapped up in Washington, D.C., June 9. Participants celebrated progress and a huge new funding infusion and focused pressure on the G-8 summit in Canada later this month.

Women Deliver 2010 press conferenceWASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--More than 3,500 women from 146 countries converged on the nation's capital this week for a second major conference on maternal mortality.

They celebrated benchmark achievements in reducing maternal and infant mortality and faced stubborn failures at the same time.

The gathering, organized by the global advocacy group Women Deliver, was able to savor success stories in countries such as Sri Lanka and Malawi, where maternal deaths have been significantly lowered since the first conference was held in London in 2007.

But the Women Deliver conference also offered a forum for tales of women still dying preventable childbirth deaths and of inadequate access to family planning services for 215 million women worldwide.

"We must fight for women's health with all our resources all the time," pledged U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon at the opening session on June 7.

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Melinda Gates, a major philanthropist in this field, followed later that morning to announce $1.5 billion in new support from the Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, for programs targeting women's health. She said she hoped that donation would spur the G-8 summit in Canada on June 25, where leaders of eight of the world's most industrialized nations will meet, to step up in a similar fashion.

Gates pointed out that 350,000 women still die every year giving birth and that 3 million newborns die annually.

"Women and children have finally moved up on the global agenda, and I'm here to tell you that's where they are going to stay," she said.

The mother of three added that she "cannot imagine being denied access to the tools" to plan her family and the "basic right to decide how many children to have."

Integrated Approach

Gates emphasized a theme that emerged in several sessions throughout the three-day conference: the need for a more integrated approach to global family planning efforts that doesn't address one disease or problem at a time, but instead focuses on caring for the total human being.

"I'm making women and children's health my personal priority as co-chair of the Gates Foundation," she said.

The group's agenda calls for another $12 billion a year to achieve the millennium development goals for combating maternal and newborn mortality--MDGs 4 and 5. In September, the U.N. will host a review session for progress on the MDGs--a set of international promises to fight world poverty--as part of the annual General Assembly.

The conference ranged from panels featuring major players on the world stage--including former-Chilean President Michelle Batchelet, former-Irish President Mary Robinson and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Veveer--to those featuring health care workers and nongovernmental organization staffers working on the ground in developing nations.

Only a handful of the conference's 140 panels focused on access to safe abortion.

"We are going to have great differences of opinion on abortion. That is the reality in our society," Veveer told one panel titled "A Better Life for the World's Women." "But this is something we can agree on. We know family planning reduces abortion. We know it reduces maternal mortality. We know it improves the life of the mother."

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