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UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, Part (2): Every Woman, Every Child

September 29, 2010

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he wrote about New York City's "neighborhood of conscience.")

MaternalhealthIndia The worst tragedies in history are often those that could have been avoided. Could untold numbers been saved from death at the hand of the Nazis if the Allies had bombed railroad lines used to transport them to concentration camps before and after D-Day? Could the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been avoided through more behind-the-scenes diplomacy? Answers to such difficult questions are not easy to divine.

In contrast, the course of action needed to avert a twenty-first-century tragedy was readily apparent at last week's UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, where UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon unveiled Every Woman, Every Child, the UN's global strategy for improving women's and children's health. As one of the speakers at Wednesday's event, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, pointed out, we know which strategies and interventions work, thanks in part to decades of work undertaken (and -written) by governments, foundations, NGOs, UN agencies, and other multilateral institutions. The issue now is finding the collective will -- and resources -- to implement them.

At the event, Graça Machel, the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, issued a three-part challenge: put women and children at the center of the political agenda; invest in fielding health professionals who can provide quality care; and make sure that women take responsibility for seeking needed healthcare services.

While progress has been made in reducing maternal and child mortality since the MDG campaign was launched a decade ago, much remains to be done. Today in the developing world, one woman in eight dies in childbirth. And the UN estimates that 16 million women and children under the age of 5 will die by 2015 if the world does not come together to improve conditions for them.

Over the last six months, the secretary-general, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation and others, has reached out to NGOs and civil society and groups, foundations, corporations, and other stakeholders to join the UN in committing to the reduction of maternal, newborn, and child mortality rates around the globe. In response, many have come forward with ambitious pledges -- $40 billion, at last count -- to improve the health of women and children everywhere.

A number of prominent foundations, including the Nigeria-based TY Danjuma Foundation, the Carlos Slim Foundation in Mexico, and the MacArthur, Ford, Gates, Packard, and EMpower foundations here in the U.S. have announced commitments. So has the Global Fund for Women and eleven other women's funds, as well as international nonprofits such as Amnesty International, BRAC, CARE, Family Care International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and World Vision.

Underlying this historic effort is a fundamental understanding that governments and multilateral agencies alone cannot marshal the resources needed to address and make progress on challenges such as global poverty, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, maternal and child health, and gender empowerment.

The message is clear: Everyone has to step up and do their part to make sure we meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The lives of 16 million women and children depend on it.

-- Michael Seltzer

(Seltzer was a member of the Rabin Strategic Partners consulting team recruited by the United Nations Foundation to provide support for the Every Woman, Every Child Summit. He is also a trustee of EMpower-The Emerging Markets Foundation.)

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