UNITED NATIONS, MediaGlobal News—On Sept. 25, high-level movers and shakers from United Nations (UN) agencies, government, civil society, and other stakeholders met for an evening of provocative discussion at Scandinavia House in midtown Manhattan for the Lives on the Line event sponsored by Save the Children, Family Care International, World Vision, Women Deliver, and Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH).
Al Jazeera journalist Femi Oke moderates the “Lives on the LIne” panel of experts. Photo credit: Save the Children
The evening served as an engaging platform to address the urgency of saving 3.5 million children, tied to UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, respectively.
“We’re focusing tonight on child and maternal mortality, because obviously the two are intertwined,” said Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children (STC), at the evening’s opening.
Without doubt, there’s been progress for MDGs 4 and 5 since 1990 due to political commitment, work on the ground, and government accountability. Since 1990, both child and maternal mortality have nearly halved. Still, 18,000 children under age 5 die every day, 1 million per year, and 300,000 women die due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth according to figures provided by STC.
During the program, Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, a maternal health advocate, shared her story of the near-fatal amniotic embolism she’d had four years ago while giving birth to her fourth child.
“My lungs filled with fluid, my heart went into arrest, my kidneys started to fail, and I was gasping for breath,” she said.
Zeid went on to cite, “The UN Commission on Livesaving Commodities has identified 13 proven but underutilized medical drugs and tools that target and prevent the main killers of mothers and newborns and children. We must put these life saving tools into the hands of our health care workers and our facilities.”
The evening’s panelists, moderated by Al Jazeera journalist Femi Oke, represented a broad spectrum of experts including Executive Director of UNICEF Anthony Lake, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, and President of the International Confederation of Midwives Frances Day-Stirk.
“On our current trend, we’re not going to reach MDG 4 by 2015,” said Lake. “We will reach it in 2028. That means all the children we’re talking about saving by 2015 will die. This can either discourage us or make it more urgent.”
According to recent figures, 19 countries with high child mortality have achieved MDG 4, including Timor Leste, Tanzania, and Bangladesh. Four countries with high maternal mortality, the Maldives, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, and Nepal, have achieved MDG 5. The highest child mortality rates are in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and Pakistan.
“The countries that are likely to achieve both [MDGs 4 and 5] have got in place a very deliberate accountability mechanism that not only measures performance and evaluates performance, but tests a feedback loop,” said Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) and independent Expert Review Group(iERG) chair.
Phumaphi went on to say the countries that achieved success in their MDGs are the ones who take on the “aggressive pursuit of success” and cited Ethiopia as a role model.
Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, shares her near-death experience giving birth to her fourth child. Photo credit: Save the Children
In kind, Admasu said Ethiopia’s success is due to clear policy and strategy, as well as commitment from government and communities. “In our case, women and children were underutilizing services,” said Admasu, “so by design we staffed our primary health care with women, because women tend to seek service from other women, especially on reproductive health issues.”
Ethiopia, stated Admasu, deployed 38,000 female health workers to villages, increasing accessibility and the likelihood of women to seek out reproductive health care.
Norway’s Minister of International Development, Heikke Holmas, spoke of the importance of each country and its leaders being invested in its maternal health, and he closed the evening with a battle cry.
“Should poor people, or people who live in a remote area, should they have a lower quality of health than me?” asked Holmas. “If you do have a heart, then the answer is no, they should have the same quality services.”
Norway is long-regarded by the international community as an excellent country for maternal care alongside Sweden, and Holmas acknowledged his country’s generous maternity leave policy, one of the best in the developed world, with one full-year of paid leave. (Norway’s maternal mortality ratio is 1 in 7,600 and its under-5 mortality rate is three.)
“If you don’t have a heart, use your brain,” continued Holmas. “The brain will tell you… if you reach out for the people who need it the most, you will build up a system, you will be able to reach people in a cost-effective way, and you will leave no one behind. So, use your brain to make the right decision. But if you do have a heart, join the fight for what is right.”
Writer credit: MediaGlobal News Correspondent Carolyn Sun