Saturday, August 21, 2010

African Leaders and their First Ladies tackle Maternal, Child Health

On the 18th of July 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, the Ugandan First Lady, Janet Kataha Museveni presided over an important session of the meeting of African First Ladies, devoted to the theme of the debate that their powerful husbands had just concluded on “Promoting Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa".

The move was seen as a strategic success and welcome to governments and organizations promoting maternal and child health in Africa, because African First Ladies have traditionally focused their work on HIV and AIDS through their umbrella organization: Organisation for African First Ladies Against AIDS (OAFLA).
Ms Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA’s Executive Director, one of the keynote speakers at the event, thinks it has been a mistake to think of maternal and child health matters as
 a standalone issue.

“One thing we know is that women want to have their total health care needs met in one place. A one-stop-centre, where they can get family planning: health care before, during and after childbirth; nutrition advice; and services for HIV and AIDS. This is especially important in low-income countries, where health facilities and health workers are in short supply”, she said.

“Maternal and Child Health is not just a health issue, it concerns education, and especially the education of the girl child. An educated girl is much more likely to become a better mother”, she stressed. She expressed delight at seeing the First Ladies of Africa extend their support to this important aspect of development and explained that, because of the close links of maternal and child health to HIV/AIDS, a number of UN agencies had launched a joint initiative to harness their resources so as to better “deliver as one”.
At the end of the meeting, the First ladies agreed to address safe motherhood by raising awareness which contribute to better health outcomes such as harmful traditional practices, early marriages, and gender based violence”.
The conclusions arrived over this issue at the end of the meeting of the Heads of States and Government were upbeat too. Present were the President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda; President Armando Emilio Guebuza of Mozambique; Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA; Yvonne Chaka Chaka, UNICEF and Malaria Goodwill Ambassador; and Bience Gawanas, Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission.
Some of the notable conclusions drawn were:

*The decision by the Executive Council of the African Union to extend the Maputo Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Africa from 2010 to 2015.

*The decision to set aside a week each year for social mobilization on the implementation of Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) and to put in place a framework for countries to share and scale up good practices in maternal and child health management. Note that although the principal focus of CARMMA is maternal death, it is also about child mortality because of the impact of maternal death on children and families.

*The leaders of the African Union also committed to attaining maternal and child health objectives before 2015 and called for more intense resource mobilization, especially at local level, to provide adequate funding for maternal and child health.

“The provision of free access of women and children to health services,” was not only desirable, but should also become the practice in all African countries, the leaders agreed.

Expressing satisfaction with the international community’s renewed focus on African health issues, the Summiteers also called for longstanding financial pledges to be fulfilled. They asked the African Union Commission to create a mechanism to report regularly on the concrete sums made available to governments.
Significance of this meeting
Commenting on the debate on maternal health, Bunmi Makinwa, Director of UNFPA’s Africa Regional Office, called the Kampala Summit the most important related event in Africa since the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.

“I am so impressed and delighted by the extent and quality of the debate on maternal and child health taking place in this hall”, Mr. Makinwa said. “I see a new spirit emerging from this Summit – a spirit that translates a whole approach that African leaders have on solving the problems that affect the lives of women and children in their respective countries.”

My Commentary
While the fact that African heads of State are having meetings about this very important issue is laudable, we need them to put their money where their mouth is.

According to the reports from UNFPA: The interactive debate among, had to be extended for another full day because as many as 30 Heads of State and delegations had registered to take to the podium. Yes, that’s African leaders doing what they do best talk talk talk! We need action.

Dear President, Minister of Health, Commissioners of Health in Nigeria, ‘Do you know our doctors are on strike? That just last week, 50 doctors in Olabisi Onabanjo University teaching hospital threw in their gloves and resigned over poor remuneration and working conditions?’

‘Where then are the medical personnel to assist in child birth? What state are our health establishments? Are they welcoming? Are they adequately equipped (we are talking of barest minimums here: incubators, insecticide treated nets on the windows, toilets for use by Mom and child, beds, lighting, security of patients and medics (Benin??) Adequate staffing? Yet we want to spend N10billion to celebrate our 50th Independence (950m on march past festivities, 20m on a party for 1000 kids etc).
Misplaced priorities don’t you think?

Culled from African First Ladies’ Organization agrees to take on Maternal, Child Health
Article written by Aloysius E Fomenky

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