Saving a Generation Within a Generation

05/14/2015 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

Your comment counts: Zero Draft Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health

"We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children." This sentiment I share with David Brower -- regarded as the founder of the modern environmental movement.

Bower's vision is as relevant today as ever. We must aim not only to avoid problems for tomorrow, but to leave things in a better state than we found them -- a world where everyone can exercise their right to good health.

Towards a new Global Strategy

This commitment to make life healthier for future generations is the foundation for the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. The new Strategy aims to ensure the effectiveness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- the new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that United Nations Member States are to agree upon this September, and which will frame development agendas and policies over the next 15 years.

The Millennium Development Goals (launched in the year 2000) have driven efforts which have saved millions of lives. But much remains to be done.

Lessons learnt

The new strategy builds on important successes and lessons learnt during the 15-year push to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

We have learned that political leadership -- from heads of state and government, heads of regional and international organizations, to local and community leaders -- is key to keeping development issues high enough on agendas to attract enough resources that can make a difference. The fact that the UN Secretary-General himself launched the first Global Strategy galvanized political leadership and helped shape the global movement, Every Woman Every Child, which brought new investment and better health for women and children in many countries.

We know how much more effective it is to work collaboratively and to integrate health programmes. Efforts to combat malaria, such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, saved the lives of 3 million young children between 2000 and 2012. Treating women who live with HIV with antiretroviral drugs keeps them healthy and protects their children from infection, assuring them a better start in life.

We have also seen that real progress can be made when different communities cooperate to address health and social, economic and environmental issues all together. Working across different sectors -- with food producers, schools, and health workers -- is key to improving nutrition. Poor nutrition leads to at least 3 million child deaths each year as well as stunting.

New evidence and challenges

And we have identified new challenges that the MDGs have not managed to address.

Coping with emergencies is one. More than half of all maternal, newborn and child deaths occur in the 51 countries categorized as 'fragile states' due to natural disasters, conflict or post-conflict situations . The new Global Strategy identifies building resilient health systems as key to ensuring that mothers and children can keep accessing vital services, even in times of emergency.

Although global progress has been made towards MDGs for water and sanitation, environmental factors still pose major health challenges. Contaminated water is often responsible for the spread of the biggest killer diseases for children, such as pneumonia and diarrhoea. Recent data show that in 40 percent health facilities in the world's poorest countries, there is no ready water supply. Currently, 1 in 8 deaths worldwide is linked to air pollution.

And we need to focus on some important points which had been overlooked in the past. The MDGs did not focus on newborn deaths and stillbirths. Adolescents missed out too. As a result, many preventable deaths still occur every year.

It has become clear that setting numerical targets is not enough. Stark differences and inequities show up in all countries. The new Strategy looks for progress across the board -- in remote and rural areas, among the poorest and most disadvantaged, as well as in easier to reach urban centres.

Zero Draft Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health

One of the most important lessons is the importance of being inclusive. That is why the development of the new Strategy entails a global discussion through consultations on-line and face-to-face in Asia and Africa; to date, more than 4 500 comments have been received from stakeholders all over the world.

Top level leadership remains crucial

This week, I will attend a special retreat convened by the UN Secretary-General for high-ranking government leaders and international development actors to consider the Zero Draft of the Global Strategy. Next week health ministers will hold further discussions during the World Health Organization's annual Assembly. And after the Strategy is launched later this year, countries will discuss a roadmap for implementation with a view to adopt it at the 2016 Health Assembly.

I will urge them to support the new Global Strategy. It puts people at the centre of the SDGs. Only by putting women, children and adolescents at the centre -- to survive and thrive -- can the SDGs bring about the transformation needed to attain and sustain the future we want.

The Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health 2016-2030 seeks to transform the future. I urge you -- as David Brower did -- to take action now!