At Summit, AU Leaders Discuss Funding Challenges For Maternal, Child Health

African leaders focused on the theme of the 15th African Union (AU) Summit on Sunday: maternal and infant mortality on the continent, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports (7/26).

Leaders expressed concern that women continue to face health challenges that are easily treatable, according to Daily Nation/ “All leaders and participants agreed that there was more political will in Africa today to improve the welfare of women and children than at any other time in the history of the continent,” the publication writes. Discussion participants noted women’s roles in development and focused on the need to allocate more resources (Mathenge, 7/26).

According to the Standard, “African leaders … cited lack of resources as the major cause for the rising cases of maternal deaths in the continent.” Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, blamed the high maternal death rates in developing countries on a lack of adequate health facilities and trained health workers. Though Tanzania has doubled its budget allocation for maternal health care, it has not been enough to see major improvements, according to Kikwete. “This problem is complex and much more needs to be done and more resources need to be put in place,” he said. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said maternal mortality could not be addressed in isolation. “When I saw the theme, my immediate response was how can we discuss these issues without addressing the foundation of the problem, which is job creation, infrastructure development and general development?” he asked (Mutua, 7/26).  

“Although the nominal theme of the meeting is maternal and child health, the subject of regional security and what can be done to tackle the Al Qaeda-linked Somali Islamist group, Al Shabab – which claimed responsibility for the July 11 attacks – dominated the discussion” as African leaders met on Sunday, the Christian Science Monitor notes in an article reporting on the summit’s focus on Somalia (Delany, 7/26).

Advocates Push For Health Improvements

Also at the summit, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health – an alliance with more than 300 representatives aiming to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to maternal and child health – and the consortium advocacy group Countdown to 2015 have called for $32 billion to improve the health of African women, PANA/Afrique en ligne writes.  

“In the next five years, 11 million African women and children could be saved by creating near-universal availability of key life-saving interventions,” according to a press release from the organizations. “The Countdown report estimates that these interventions – antenatal care, emergency care at the time of birth, post-natal care, treatment of childhood illnesses, and immunization, among others – will cost an additional $32 billion, or about $8 per person per year over the next five years. This would allow 95 percent population coverage,” the press release states. The investment could bring “most African countries in line with U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, which call for reducing the number of deaths among children under 5 by two thirds, and reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters by 2015,” according to the groups (7/26).

In related news, Reuters AlertNet reports on advocacy groups’ take on the summit: “Governments attending an African Union summit this week must consider Africa’s high maternal death rates as a state of emergency and urgently commit more funds to improving healthcare for women and infants, said aid agencies. … Civil society groups meeting in Uganda ahead of the summit say public health systems in most African countries have collapsed, with dire shortages of doctors, nurses, midwives and medical supplies affecting women and children the most.” The article includes feedback from Oxfam’s pan-Africa director (Fominyen, 7/26).

U.N. Officials Call For Global Fund Replenishment Declaration 

“On the sidelines” of the AU summit Monday, U.N. officials called for African leaders to make a declaration calling for increased funding to address HIV/AIDS in Africa, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports.

“We expect at least a two-paragraph declaration calling for the replenishment of funds for” the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund. Michel Sidibe, the head of UNAIDS joined Kazatchkine in expressing “fears over funding cuts,” the news service writes. Sidibe told journalists: “The gap is huge, from $26 billion to $16 billion mobilized this year. We need an extra $10 billion every year” to pay for HIV/AIDS care.

Jeffrey Sachs, a senior adviser to the U.N. chief on the MDGs, focused criticism on the U.S. “It strikes me as hard to understand that they cannot increase their funding to HIV/AIDS through the Global Fund when bankers walk away with $30 billion bonuses untaxed,” he said (7/26).

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