Ministers from 26 countries commit to action so that women and children can survive and thrive
24-25 August 2017
Addis Ababa, 25 August 2017 – At a high-level summit co-hosted by the Governments of Ethiopia and India, Ministers and representatives from 26 countries recommitted to the pledge of women’s and children’s survival. The summit – the fourth since 2012 – celebrated the progress made to date on maternal and child survival, and provided a forum to share best practices and lessons learned in order to overcome persistent barriers. Despite significant reductions in maternal and child deaths since 1990, nearly 6 million child under-five still die every year of largely preventable causes, as well as approximately 300,000 women who die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros, in his former role as Ethiopian Minister of Health from 2008-2012, was central to the first ‘Child survival call to action’ in 2012, and also oversaw great investments and improvements in maternal and child health in his country. “Since I was the co-chair, along with India, UNICEF, and USAID, of the first Child Survival Call to Action Conference in 2012, I am especially pleased to be part of the fourth Acting on the Call Summit, which continues to bring attention to this critical issue,” said Dr Tedros, speaking to the summit by video address. “I am firmly convinced that we cannot attain the ambitious targets of the SDGs unless we improve the health, dignity and rights of women, children and adolescents.”
WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Flavia Bustreo, together with the Minister of Health from Ethiopia and Additional Secretary for Health from India, co-chaired a Ministerial Conclave on the second day of the summit. The Ministerial Conclave called upon the 26 countries – many of whom still have a high burden of maternal and child deaths – to share their progress and identify key bottlenecks and barriers that are hindering greater progress.
“WHO shares with all of you the goals and vision of Acting on the Call,” said Dr Bustreo, “these are the goals of ending preventable mortality, ensuring that women and children can be healthy and thrive, and that they have the tools to be empowered to improve their own health and well-being and make transformative change in their communities and society.”
One common challenge highlighted by countries – including Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, and Indonesia – is that of improving the quality of health services. This is especially critical around the time of birth, evidenced by the fact that the majority of maternal deaths take place around the time of birth, and 45% of under-5 child deaths take place in the first 28 days of life, in addition to 2.6 million stillbirths. Most of these deaths could be prevented with quality care during pregnancy and childbirth.
“Births in health facilities have increased in the past decade,” says Dr Anthony Costello, Director of Maternal and Child Health, and chair of a session at the summit on quality of care. “Yet in order to ensure that this translates into lives saved, we must focus on ensuring that the care received by mothers and babies is of the highest quality.”
To support this vision, last year, WHO, UNICEF and nine countries launched a Quality of Care Network, with the goal of halving maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths in health facilities in five years. Also present at the summit was Dr Felicitas Zawaira, Director for Family and Reproductive Health in the WHO Regional Office for Africa, who is helping to advance this initiative in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The Ministerial Conclave concluded with a Ministerial Declaration, in which the 26 countries committed to redoubling efforts to achieve the ambitious targets set out by the sustainable Development Goals and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health of ending the preventable deaths of women and children within a generation. To achieve this, Ministers agreed to focus on improving the quality of care (including respectful maternity care), tackling inequities, strengthening health systems, and increasing domestic financing for women’s and children’s health.
Ministers also recognized the need to improve health beyond survival. “We must not forget that there are many important issues beyond survival that need our most innovative thinking and creative solutions,” said Dr Tedros. “After all, our global strategy is to survive, thrive, and transform.”