ADDIS ABABA - Ending the needless death and suffering of women during pregnancy is one of the greatest moral and development challenges of our time and requires concrete action, agreed more than 150 delegates that met here yesterday.
The High-Level Meeting on Maternal Health -- Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5) was held to push maternal health higher on the political agenda and increase political and financial commitment for improving maternal health at the country level. The one-day event was organized by Bert Koenders, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and was hosted by the Government of Ethiopia.
Policy makers, youth groups, members of civil society and the private sector worldwide discussed policy challenges and means to achieve MDG5, which is already behind schedule.
The meeting concluded with the adoption of the Addis Call to Urgent Action for Maternal Health that recommended specific steps to reach the goal by 2015, particularly the following key measures:
* Prioritize family planning l Make adolescents a priority by investing in their health, education and livelihoods and
* Strengthen health systems with sexual and reproductive health as a priority.
Describing maternal death as "the greatest crisis of our time," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Health of Ethiopia, highlighted, at the meeting's opening, the need to focus on three priorities: keeping a strong momentum on MDG5; linking maternal health and the strengthening of national health systems; and partnership between developing and developed countries.
The Dutch Minister, Mr. Koenders, said: "Today is important for women all over the world, and their children and partners. In fact, it is important for everyone, because MDG5 affects us all...MDG5 is the mother of all MDGs - an investment in it promotes the attainment of all other MDGs."
"We are here for one reason and one reason only: to accelerate action to improve maternal health and end the needless death and suffering of women," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in her keynote speech. "To improve maternal health, we need to scale up and deliver a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health information, supplies and services."
Among other recommended actions, participants called on policy makers to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, with the involvement of young people, and to break the silence and mobilize efforts to promote gender equality. They also called on development partners and donors to fulfill the agreed target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for official development assistance, and to place maternal health and MDG5 at the centre of global health initiatives.
Amidst worries that most countries won't meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goal 5 to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015, Nepal has done surprisingly well.
In a statement delivered at the UN on 23 September Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal promised to scale up free maternal care and to improve women's access to healthcare. UNFPA executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid congratulated Nepal's efforts at the High-Level Meeting on Maternal Health, and noted that this would "enable a million and a half women to have a safer delivery over the next five years."
Nepal has already halved its maternal death rate since the MDGs were introduced in 1990 and is one of a few countries that may meet MDG 5. But the problem remains serious in Nepal, with one woman dying in childbirth every four hours.
Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell visited Nepal from 6-9 September to draw attention to women suffering uterine prolapse, a debilitating condition in which a woman's uterus drops to her pelvis, and which afflicts 1 in 10 women here.