As the saying goes... there is no rest for the weary... yesterday was a BIG day for maternal, newborn and child health. It started off with rushing my kids out the door and off to school downtown, then racing uptown to get to an event titled "Maternal Health in Crisis" which took place across from the UN (not an easy area of town to access this week). The event primarily focused on health workers as a critical and attainable solution to reducing preventable deaths for moms, babies and children under five. I was invited to speak at the event by my friend Ann Starrs, who runs Family Care International, and who was also one of our expert advisers on the documentary film NO WOMAN, NO CRY.
After all Ann has done for me, I was relieved to arrive just in time to participate in the thoughtful conversation amongst a distinguished panel that was moderated by Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet, and included Ann Starrs, Dr. Julie Gerberding, President of Merck Vaccines, Dr. Willibrord Shasha, AIDSTAR project, Jhpiego; Mugara Joseph Mahungururo, a Nurse-Midwife from Tanzania, and Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID. We were brought together to highlight the fact that for all the barriers that remain a challenge to maternal health (which directly impacts the health of newborns) there are also some tangible solutions that we can all rally around - such as training more health workers. The lack of health workers and adequately trained providers in the developing world is one of the gaps that we urgently need to fill and which requires us to act immediately. The UN has estimated that we need 3.5 million more health workers and when I hear from speakers like Mugara Joseph Mahungururo, who say that she, along with just a handful of colleagues, have delivered 6000 babies this year- I know the human toll this shortage is taking.
Given the focus of the Healthcare Workers Count campaign this week, Every Mother Counts launched a new PSA (public service announcement) today called "Choices." A huge thanks once again to our good friends at Oglivy & Mather (Alternative Content and Events) who helped put this together. I think this PSA really drives home the important fact that too few women have options at all, even during the most critical junctures in their pregnancies. There are countless mothers out there simply trying to make the best decisions they virtually can on their own. Please watch it here and share it widely.
Later we entered the UN grounds for the Every Woman, Every Child event. It's been a year since global leaders met here in New York and launched this initiative. At the time, they amassed $40 billion in commitments from governments, private sector players, civil society and individuals, and this was a one year check in on progress to date. With standing room only to spare, the mood truly was hopeful given that the purpose of this session was focused on progress. ABC News' Christiane Amanpour introduced and moderated the program that was kicked off by remarks from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Secretary-General noted how launching this initiative was one of the greatest accomplishments of his first term in office, and underscored that he would remain committed going forward. Hearing him relate his own experiences and the fact that his parents didn't even register his birth until a year later because they weren't sure he'd survive- drove home the reality that maternal and child health issues impact us all. The Secretary-General was followed by both the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister of Norway, then by the co-chairs of the new Accountability Framework, President Kikwete of Tanzania, and Prime Minister Harper of Canada, who all took to the stage to focus the crowd on the emphasis that would be put on the accountability of these commitments going forward.
The following are some highlights-
Then the CEO of Merck, Kenneth Frazier, officially launched their "Merck for Mothers" initiative, which is a $500 million commitment over ten years. This commitment is specifically geared to scaling up proven solutions, investing in innovation and increasing advocacy. The Dean of Harvard's School of Public Heath, Dr. Julio Frenk, spoke during the last panel to remind us to keep perspective--as we prepare to save the lives of children, we need to create conditions so that they can realize their potential. It's all about comprehensive solutions.
After the program ended, we walked a few blocks to keep the focus on Every Woman, Every Child, but in a much different setting. We got to take part in a reception that was part pep rally, part pledging conference, and part reunion. It was a great assembly of folks all bound in their commitment to MDGs 4,5 and 6, and I was so honored to be amongst so many personal heroes and champions of global health. The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, organized an evening that focused on gender issues, child mortality, maternal mortality, the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS and health workers as a common solution to so many of the above challenges. The program read like a who's who list so I'll surely forget some when listing. I think that one of the best evening's surprises was when Deepak Chopra introduced 50 Cent and invited him to introduce his own commitment to working with the World Food Programme.
The continued success of our collective commitments to these issues will rely upon bringing new and unexpected partners to the table.This is the goal of Every Mother Counts, to educate and support maternal, newborn and child health and to engage new audiences to better understand the challenges and the solutions while encouraging them to take action to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.
Follow Christy Turlington Burns on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CTurlington