In 2000, global leaders made a promise to reduce poverty throughout the developing world by committing to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Of all the MDGs, goals 4 and 5, to improve the health of women and children, are most off track. As the final push to the MDG deadline begins, donor and developing country governments must take decisive action. The Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, launched by the United Nations Secretary General in August 2010, calls on governments to demonstrate the critical leadership needed on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) over the next five years. Not only will additional investment in health interventions save lives, supporting healthy families will provide for healthy economies and future global prosperity.
If governments keep their promises and meet MDGs 4 and 5, this could avert the deaths of over 15 million children under five, including more than 3 million newborns; prevent 33 million unintended pregnancies and stop 740,000 women dying from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth in the 49 lowest income countries over the next four years. An additional 88 million children under five would be spared from stunted growth and an additional 120 million children would be protected from pneumonia.
In recent years, a consensus that urgent action is needed has been affirmed in international political commitments. At this year’s G8 summit in Muskoka, Canada, G8 leaders confirmed that progress towards MDGs 4 and 5 has been ‘unacceptably slow’. The recent ‘Muskoka Initiative’ signals welcome progress for MNCH as the governments of the G8 pledged US$5 billion in additional resources until 2015, with an additional US$2.3 billion from non-G8 donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UN Foundations. We welcome the G8 investment in water and sanitation, programs to combat maternal and child under-nutrition, food security, education of women and girls, and other such mutually reinforcing interventions that address the indirect or underlying causes of mortality for mothers, newborns and children. At the 2010 African Union summit in Uganda, African leaders recommitted to the 2001 Abuja commitment of allocating at least 15 percent of national budgets to health and pledged to support comprehensive, integrated MNCH services. These significant catalytic moves serve as stepping stones to drive new partnerships, innovation and progress.
Now governments must honor previous commitments and invest in new, high impact, programs targeting women, children and newborns and finance stronger health systems. Such investment in health provision is not only a global responsibility, but an essential element of economic growth and development. Each year an estimated US$15bn alone is lost in global productivity through poor maternal and child health.