African Leaders Agree To Expand Maternal Health Campaign As AU Summit Concludes

African leaders participating in the 15th African Union (AU) Summit, which concluded on Tuesday, agreed to expand a campaign aimed at curbing maternal mortality on the continent and adopted other “key actions” in an effort to reduce infant and maternal mortality, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports.

Summit attendees agreed to extend the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), Bience Gawanas, the AU’s commissioner for social affairs, said. “The main objective of CARMMA [which was launched at the AU’s health minister conference in May 2009] is to accelerate the availability and use of universally accessible quality health services which are critical for the reduction of maternal mortality, especially in countries with high rates,” the news service writes. AU leaders also decided to broaden the campaign to focus on the health of newborns, in addition to maternal health, Gawanas added.

“The lives of African women and children is the concern of everybody. This session has been a historic first in the sense that the debate strongly focused on the lives of Africa’s women and children in development,” Gawanas said (7/27).

“Thirteen Member States have launched [CARMMA] nationwide and eight others would do so by the end of the year. We hope that during this Summit which is being held under the theme ‘Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa,’ and at the end of the deliberations which we trust will be productive, the other Member States will come on board,” H.E Jean Ping, chairperson of the AU Commission, said in an address (.doc) to the executive council (7/22). Ping said, “We want an Africa where women need not die because they are giving life,” the Daily Monitor reports.

Also at the summit, African leaders renewed the 2001 Abuja Declaration, which calls on African countries to spend at least “15 percent of their national budgets, excluding donor contributions, on health,” the Daily Monitor writes, noting that only “Botswana, Rwanda, Niger, Malawi, Zambia and Burkina are currently meeting this target” (Lirri, 7/28).

Leaders also agreed “to strengthen national health systems with comprehensive maternal, newborn and child health services,” PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. “Aware of the fact that the majority of African countries would not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the session also noted that it is important to adopt best health practices that have already been tested in some of the member states.” In addition, the summit agreement “directed the AU Commission to explore the best mechanism for African countries to access funds pledged by the recent G8 Summit” and called for countries to produce annual reports on maternal and child health to share at future AU meetings (7/27). “The AU appealed to donors who will meet in an October 2010 meeting of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to extend the fund’s support to child and maternal health,” Inter Press Service reports.

Gawanas called the summit “historic.” She said, “[W]e have been asking about political will and leadership and there is no doubt that the AU heads of states and governments have shown the political will to promote maternal and child health on the continent.”

IPS also reports on the reaction of civil society groups who “were initially concerned that the conflict in Somalia … would overshadow the formal theme of the summit.” The article includes reaction from representatives of Save the Children and Oxfam (Michael, 7/28).

On Monday, Ugandan First Lady Jeannette Museveni highlighted how a lack of water and sanitation results in many child deaths on the continent, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports.

“Each day, 2,000 small Africans die from diarrhoea, while the use of toilets with all the hygiene and health conditions can reduce the mortality rate related to this disease by 90 percent,” according to a communique issued Monday on the sidelines of the summit (7/27). Other African first ladies joined Museveni’s call for “African leaders to improve access to potable water to tackle child mortality,” Leadership/ reports. “If we do not multiply and improve our efforts, if we do not recognise the integrated nature of Africa’s development, by improving the health of our children and our mothers, they will be extremely challenged,” Museveni said on behalf of the first ladies (7/27).

On Tuesday, State Department officials held a briefing on the AU summit. A full transcript is available (7/27).

WFP Wants To Help Africans Address Hunger, Promote Self-Sufficiency, WFP Head Says

The U.N. is committed to helping African nations address hunger and malnutrition, but also aims to help the continent feed itself, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), told leaders the AU Summit, the U.N. News Centre reports.

“When designed right, social protection programmes such as school meals, food-for-education and food-for-work are foundations for not just beating hunger and malnutrition, but also drivers for agricultural development and faster economic growth,” she said. Food aid programs are sometimes the biggest purchasers from smallholder farms, she said. “They help create community infrastructure such as roads, irrigation, food processing and storage connecting farmers to markets. They help ensure that farmers and others benefit from the food supply chain so food reaches the people who need it most,” according to Sheeran who highlighted the “Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative by which WFP buys surplus from local farmers’ organizations for its aid operations,” the news service writes.

“WFP envisions the day when its emergency operations in Africa will be largely supplied by African farmers. We are gearing programmes to empower people to be food self-sufficient and contribute to the food supply chain,” she said (7/27).

U.N. Official Discusses Importance Of Malaria Fight With African Leaders

Also at the summit, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) that the fight against malaria is a central component of strengthening the health of women and children and making progress toward other MDGs, the U.N. News Centre writes.

“If you continue to see malaria control as an integral part of reaching the MDGs … of building strong health systems … of improving your people’s well-being … then the success we have seen to date will continue, and grow,” Migiro said. She noted ALMA’s recent efforts, “including ensuring pooled procurement of goods and services, and eliminating taxes and tariffs on these life-saving products,” the news service writes. “The new investments you triggered are now paying off,” she said. Though she highlighted some major achievements in malaria control over the last few years, she said, “these results remain fragile, and tremendous challenges remain.”

“The challenges she cited include finishing the job of scaling up life-saving measures, noting that 85 percent of the world’s malaria cases and 90 percent of malaria-related deaths still occur in Africa. She said it is also vital to address the emergence of mosquitoes that are resistant to some of the insecticides used on mosquito nets and for indoor spraying, including by training more experts to monitor and analyse this situation.”

“Malaria is an ancient enemy. The fight against it will be long,” according to Migiro. “But we are on the road to success. With perseverance, we will win” (7/27).

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