By Kathy Calvin
Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shared a deeply personal story, relating for the first time that he had an older brother and older sister who passed away at birth. In telling this story, he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to the goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths, saying, “We know that healthy women and children provide the foundation that enables societies to grow and flourish. They are the best investment that we can make.”
This week, the United Nations Foundation is proud to stand with partners of the UN’s Every Woman Every Child global movement to celebrate the progress that has been made in improving maternal and child health, but also to make a very serious and careful assessment of the challenges that remain. Each year, 289,000 women still die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and approximately 18,000 children die each day – largely from preventable causes. These numbers tell us clearly that there is more work to be done. One of the key goals of the “Acting on the Call” forum taking place on June 25 will be to identify the concrete steps needed to sustain momentum on achieving targets such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to improve women’s and children’s health.
The good news is we have the tools to help more women and children survive and thrive. Vaccines, adequate nutrition, improved health care services and training for workers, anti-malaria bed nets, and other high-impact mechanisms can save lives. Additionally, an essential tool for improving maternal and child health has begun to get renewed and much-needed attention: access to voluntary family planning services and information. Our shared challenge is expanding access to all of these critical instruments for healthy lives.
In recent decades, the global community has made significant progress in saving lives: Both child and maternal mortality have been cut nearly in half since 1990. But our efforts are far from over. The global community must continue to work together to achieve the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths. U.S. leadership has been, and will continue to be, critical to driving further progress.
Each of us must do our part. In pursuit of this goal, the UN Foundation, with our partners, has committed $400 million over five years in support of Every Woman Every Child. Our commitment supports the UN’s efforts to address key global health priorities, such as childhood immunizations, malaria prevention, holistic health for adolescent girls, access to reproductive health supplies and services, clean cookstoves and fuels, and improving health outcomes through mobile technologies. We focus on dynamic, multi-stakeholder partnerships to bring new voices and resources to women’s and children’s health, and these efforts are paying off.
In the final 500 days of our current commitment, we plan to deliver life-saving health information literally into the palm of the hands of 2.5 million women through the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). As a partner of the Measles & Rubella Initiative and through our Shot@Life campaign, we will help provide millions of vaccines to children, while our Nothing But Nets campaign will distribute 500,000 anti-malaria bed nets between now and the end of 2015. Through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, we will help 7.5 million households access clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels, reducing their exposure to deadly air pollution. These efforts, along with those of individuals, governments, and the private sector, are making a significant difference in the lives of millions of women and children.
We look forward to building on the momentum this week through “Acting on the Call.” Together we can help women lead healthier lives and give millions more children a shot at celebrating their fifth birthday – and beyond. In the words of the Secretary-General, these truly are the best investments we can make.