Parliaments urged to scale up efforts in securing the health of women and children

IPU, Kampala and PMNCH logos

5 APRIL 2012 | KAMPALA, UGANDA - Leaders of nearly 120 national parliaments attending a major meeting here this week resolved to prioritize action and resources for improving the health of women and children.

Delegates to the Inter-Parliamentary Union passed a resolution today calling for all member-parliaments to take all possible measures to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 by 2015. MDG 4 aims to reduce child deaths around the world by two thirds by 2015, while MDG 5 aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the same year.

This is the first time that the world’s parliaments, acting through the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), have passed a resolution on this issue. The debate on the resolution, which took place over three days in Kampala this week, featured interventions from more than 50 member-delegations, associate members and observers, including Nigeria, Brazil, the UK, Sweden and Indonesia.

The resolution was initiated by parliamentarians from Uganda in April 2011 at the IPU Assembly in Panama, and proceeded from a September 2011 special report, ‘Access to Health as a Basic Right: the Role of Parliaments in Addressing Key Challenges to Securing the Health of Women and Children.’

The Canadian Parliament, as host of the next Assembly of the IPU in Quebec City, in October, will follow up with a dedicated push on maternal, newborn and child health to support the implementation of the resolution. Senator Salma Ataullahjan noted that “Canada has significantly supported women’s and children’s health through our Muskoka Initiative, our support to the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and our Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. Without healthy women and children, the potential of our nations remain unfulfilled. I am encouraged by the IPU’s adoption of this resolution and will, looking towards the 127th Assembly in Quebec City, work to facilitate its implementation.”

Speaking during the Assembly, Ms. Paula Turyahikayo, one of the three IPU Rapporteur responsible for developing the resolution, said:

"The adoption of the resolution on MDGs 4 and 5 in Kampala is a major achievement. We hope that now all the stakeholders will come in and strengthen efforts by parliaments that make it possible to implement the resolution in all countries where MDGs 4 and 5 are doing badly." She also noted that “strengthened partnership between parliamentarians, civil society organizations, media, the private sector and all other relevant actors will be key to the implementation of this resolution.”

Mr Martin Chungong, Director of Programmes at the Inter-Parliamentary Union noted that “this resolution is welcome and will go a long way in structuring the engagement of parliamentarians in national efforts to improve the health of women and children. The Inter-Parliamentary Union intends to support this effort through the development of tools that parliamentarians will be able to use in their efforts to promote accountability for better results. The resolution gives Inter-Parliamentary Union a renewed mandate to work with its partners to strengthen parliamentary capacity in support of maternal, newborn and child health. We are committed to that mandate. We urge development partners, notably CSOs to support parliamentarians in their efforts through the capacity building and the provision of evidence when required.”

Over 1,500 members of parliament and parliamentary staff drawn from 119 countries worldwide attended the IPU Assembly in Kampala. The IPU, created in 1889, is the world’s leading forum for parliamentary dialogue on common issues of concern, and holds a general assembly for members each spring and fall. This spring’s agenda for Kampala also included an IPU initiative to reduce violence in Syria and improve access to humanitarian aid, as well as the launch of the first Global Parliamentary Report, co-produced with UNDP, investigating the state of relations between parliaments and citizens.

Women’s and children’s health was also the focus of IPU Assembly plenary addresses given by Professor Babatunde Osetimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA who spoke on reproductive and maternal health, and Anthony Lake, Director of UNICEF, who spoke on nutrition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also provided an address, calling attention to the Every Woman Every Child effort, in support of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), the Countdown to 2015 effort and UN agencies have been important technical partners of the IPU in the lead-up to this resolution, beginning from 2008, when they first co-hosted a session on maternal, newborn and child health during the IPU’s spring assembly in South Africa. Since then, PMNCH has worked closely with the IPU and host parliaments in organizing panel discussions, site visits, research reports, and knowledge summaries to increase knowledge and awareness among parliamentarians, focusing on their important roles in allocation, oversight, representation and accountability for women’s and children’s health.

Says Dr. Carole Presern, Director of PMNCH: “Parliamentarians a crucial role as advocates for women’s and children’s health. They can create enabling environments through legislation and through policy and budget support, and most importantly they can promote accountability of the executive and political arms for women’s and children’s health by supporting the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.”

Delegates at the Kampala meeting called upon parliamentarians to scrutinize all government health interventions to ensure they are evidence-based, conform to international human rights standards, and are responsive to regular and transparent performance reviews.

Maternal and child mortality rates remain unacceptably high, and many countries, especially in Africa, are not on track to achieve MDGs 4 and 5. About 7.6 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday in 2010, with 41 per cent dying in their first month. In 2008, 358,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Many women and children around the world do not have access to the professional care, medicines and supplies that can save their lives and those of their children. Many pregnant women are not being attended to by skilled health professionals during labour and delivery, a major contributing factor to maternal and newborn deaths. In Sub Saharan Africa, 50% of women deliver their babies without professional care. Parliamentarians play a critical role in allocating resources, enacting laws, overseeing implementation, and reflecting the views of citizens about their access to health services.

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