UN-led action plan for maternal, child health 'positive,' says World Vision, but crucial gaps remain
A new United Nations initiative designed to improve global maternal, newborn and child health is a welcome development but neglects to address some important action points, according to World Vision, the world's largest international humanitarian organization focusing on the well-being of children.
Formally launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon today at the Women Deliver conference in Washington, the new Joint Action Plan calls for all countries to revitalize efforts in further reducing preventable deaths among mothers and children worldwide. UN figures indicate that each year at least 350,000 mothers die, as do nearly 9 million babies and children under age five.
"This plan will help the global community build on progress made so far in tackling the needless deaths of mothers and children," says World Vision International President and Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Jenkins. "World Vision commends the Secretary General's leadership in making this health catastrophe a global priority."
"We now have plenty of examples showing how even the poorest countries can deliver on their pledges if supported with the right kind of technical expertise and appropriate levels of funding and this plan aims to ensure that becomes the norm," said Jenkins. "However, it still leaves some crucial gaps that need to be addressed."
"For example, family and community care, a cornerstone of successful public health interventions, must be emphasized" Jenkins said. "To succeed in achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, health care options must be brought closer to households, and barriers to using these services must be reduced."
World Vision's analysis shows that the deaths of 2.5 million children could be prevented each year through simple community-level interventions such as getting children and their mothers to sleep under bed nets, improving basic hygiene, making clean water and oral rehydration salts available, and ensuring pneumonia and malaria are treated promptly.
In addition, Jenkins commented that rich countries will need to deliver on pledges already made and ensure that an additional US $42.5 billion in health aid is funded by 2015. At the same time, any global plan should also urge governments to move more quickly toward fulfilling existing promises to allocate 15 percent of their national budgets to health, and to include maternal, newborn and child health in their national poverty reduction strategies.
Finally, although it aims to be comprehensive, the Joint Action Plan does not adequately address the need for better coordination of health efforts. For example, a recent World Vision analysis has shown that district medical officers in many countries with high child mortality are burdened with spending more than a quarter of their time producing reports for multiple donors and servicing competing demands from external agencies, instead of devoting that time to addressing their communities' health needs.
"This is a regrettable oversight given the recent explosion in the number of global health partnerships," Jenkins said. "Streamlined and coordinated reporting that links investments to health outcomes is needed to bolster accountability and improve effectiveness at the family and community level."
World Vision's own Child Health Now campaign, launched in November 2009, has recommitted the organization to aligning its health work to prioritize maternal and child health.
"Our Child Health Now campaign financed by our pledge of US $1.5 billion over the next 5 years - supports more than 600 health and advocacy staff and more than 70,000 community volunteers in helping priority countries improve their health systems," Jenkins said. "We are determined to make an impact in addressing this fundamental issue of children's well-being."