Kampala – On the occasion of the African Union Summit, global health organisations are calling for increased commitments to improve the health of women and children in Africa in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
With Sub-Saharan Africa still accounting for over half of all maternal and child deaths worldwide, the health organisations say that increased national health spending and the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund), and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) are key for progress. A holistic approach to healthcare, through the strengthening of healthcare provision for better integration and delivery of services plus a strong political will are other essential elements.
Health investments are development investments
The global health organisations, including the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, UNAIDS, Stop TB Partnership, Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UNITAID, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the United Nations Foundation in addition to The Global Fund and the GAVI, point to the immense economic and social opportunities that coincide with improved health of women and children.
In Asia an estimated 30-50% of economic growth from 1965 to 1990 has been attributed to reductions in infant and child mortality, reduced fertility rates, and improvements in reproductive health (1). In contrast, the current annual global impact of maternal and child deaths is estimated at $15 billion (2).
At the Summit, his Excellency President Museveni of Uganda reminded other African heads of state that health investments are development investments. “We know that when we focus our resources, we have measurable impact. In Uganda, 6.4% of adults today are HIV-positive. Although still at an unacceptable level, this figure is improved on the 18% we faced in the early 1990s, and is the result of a comprehensive package of prevention, treatment and care services.
Notable progress has also been made in other areas relating to maternal and child health. For instance, 10% more children and 9% more women now sleep under nets compared with six years ago.”
The Chair of the AU Summit, His Excellency Bingu wu Mutharika, President of Malawi, acknowledged the substantial impact of the investments made by the Global Fund on the health of women and children in Africa and called on all donors to support a fully-funded Global Fund during its October 2010 Replenishment Conference.
He also urged African leaders to fulfil their commitments to substantially increase national health spending and to expand access and affordability of essential drugs and services for vulnerable populations and to decrease healthcare costs.
Welcome focus on maternal and child health
The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro congratulated the African Union and member states for making maternal and child health a focus of this year’s summit.
She pointed to the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s Joint Action Plan for Women and Children’s Health, an effort launched in April 2010 to align and accelerate efforts to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 and 6. Dr. Migiro called on the governments to make commitments for their women and children in light of the September 2010 United Nations Millennium Development Goal Summit.
“Improving the health of women and children is a collaborative effort that will require all of us to act. Healthy women have healthy children, and they are the foundation for strong communities and strong economies. Together we can build a healthy future for all,” Dr. Migiro said.
Call to action
Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and African singing sensation, Yvonne Chaka Chaka spoke on behalf of the global health organisations and emphasised the urgency of immediate action to improve the health of women and children.
“So much progress has been made to stop the under-fives dying from malaria, to prevent children being orphaned by TB and HIV/AIDS, to halt mother-to-child HIV transmission, to enable people living with HIV/AIDS to live a symptom-free life, to stop women dying from TB, and to curb preventable diseases with widespread immunization efforts. We must continue and ramp up efforts for women and children in recognition of their importance for Africa’s future.”
Yet health financing in the region remains the lowest in the world averaging around $25 US dollars per person per year(3). The 2010 Countdown to 2015 report indicates that an investment of US$32 billion over the next five years in 42 Sub-Saharan countries will allow 95% population coverage of the key interventions required to bring most African countries in line with MDGs 4 and 5. This investment would save millions of women and children from preventable deaths and disability.
The global health organisations estimate that even with five years until the 2015 key date for the MDGs, there is only a two to three year window to scale up commitments as time is also needed for implementation and for results to be seen.
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1. Bloom DE, Williamson JG 1998. Demographic Transitions and Economic Miracles in Emerging Asia. World Bank Economic Review, 12: 419-455.
2. USAID, 2001. USAID Congressional Budget Justification FY2002: program, performance and prospects – the global health pillar. United States Agency for International Development: Washington DC.
3. Kirigia, J. and Soucat, A., Health Financing in Africa: Where Are We and What Has Been Committed?, HHA, WHO AFRO and World Bank, 2009.