Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

7 June 2014

Tanzania: Toronto Summit Sets Goals On Maternal Health

Toronto — President Jakaya Kikwete speaks at a round table discussion during a summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Toronto Canada last week. Left is Canada's Prime Minister Mr Stephen Harper.

THE key to achieving lofty development goals is to remain focused on specific targets. This was declared by Canada's Prime Minister Mr Stephen Harper after a three-day international summit on maternal and child health Summit in Toronto last week.

Mr Harper has already made maternal and baby health a priority for the Canadian government's international development efforts. Several hundred delegates and experts were in Toronto for the Saving Every Woman, Every Child summit, a continuation of official talks that took place in 2010 and resulted in what is called the Muskoka Initiative. Mr Harper has already announced funding of 2.85 billion US dollars toward the cause.

It should be remembered that in the world today, roughly 800 women and 18,000 children die every day from preventable causes. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO) recent report. According to President Jakaya Kikwete who addressed the summit, the deaths often result from lack of access to medical care and lack of immunization or nutritious food.

In a moderated panel discussion with Mr Harper, President Jakaya Kikwete said despite progress, major challenges remained with maternal and baby health. "Children die because of lack of immunization, of malaria, of malnutrition," he said adding that the world has enough expertise, resources - both financial and technical - to be able to deal with these problems.

Kikwete said he was heartened by the financial aid and other unfulfilled commitments from developed countries, but added that he is concerned about lack of follow up, as countries have to deal with their own challenges.

President Kikwete sounded optimistic when he insisted that the key to maintaining momentum was to keep the focus on a few number of specific goals. "The list can't be infinitely long. When a mother dies during childbirth, it is tragic" President Kikwete said.

Tragic too is when children die within the first five years of life. But saddest of all, President Kikwete said, is when a child passes away and the child never really had an official existence.

According to President Kikwete, the list cannot be infinitely long simply because when a mother dies during childbirth, it is a tragic matter that calls for immediate action. He said that it is tragic too when children die within the first five years of life, but saddest of all is when a child passes away.

During the Summit, one half of the world's most powerful philanthropic couple praised Mr Harper's child and maternal health initiative, urging governments everywhere to support it for their own economic good.

Melinda Gates, who along with her husband Bill runs the Gates Foundation, said Canada has become an important partner in finding innovative ways to help the world's poorest people.

Melinda gave the speech at the Summit aimed at reducing the millions of yearly deaths of young mothers, newborns and young children in developing countries. Melinda whose foundation also works in Tanzania made clear that she has the heft to advocate for the less fortunate, on whatever side of the power corridor she chooses to walk.

"When I talk to health ministers from developing countries, they want to hear how we can reduce mortality," she said. "When I talk to finance ministers, they want to hear how we can increase GDP. Well, let us make sure everybody knows that the answer is the same in both cases - Invest in the health of women and children," she says.

Calling global health her second career, Melinda said there are solid economic reasons why the world no longer has to tolerate the deaths of far too many women and children. "People still say that caring for women and children is too big an investment for too uncertain a return," she said. "We know that they're wrong, and we have powerful evidence that investing in women's and children's health generates an enormous return."

Melinda lauded Harper for his "powerful advocacy on behalf of people in developing countries." "Under your leadership, and with the support of many people in this room, Canada has earned a global reputation for driving the agenda when it comes to women and children," she told Canada's Premier Mr Harper. "The Muskoka Initiative rallied the entire world around saving mothers and their babies."

Melinda said it has attracted attention and investments that have brought once elusive goals to within arm's reach. Canada deserves credit for funding organizations that have tried to eradicate polio AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The same country leads the way -- along with the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Gates Foundation -- in encouraging greater emphasis on collecting vital statistics on births and deaths. "Nearly six billion people are not covered by reliable cause of death statistics.

In other words, we don't know how three-quarters of the global population dies, which makes it very hard to allocate resources effectively when you're trying to prevent those deaths." While the number of young children and mothers dying has been halved since 1990, Melinda said that is not good enough.

The vast majority of the 2.9 million infants who die each year in their first month of life, including the one million newborns who die on their first day, could be saved with simple interventions that are readily available in most developing countries. These include fostering breast feeding, properly drying newborns, so-called "kangaroo care" that encourages skin-to-skin contact and teaching basic resuscitation techniques.

"Our work at the Melinda and Gates Foundation is guided by a simple principle: all lives have equal value. We despise inequity," she said. She ended with a direct and passionate plea: "Let us insist that no child should be born to die. Instead, let us insist, from this day forward, that every baby born will be a promise kept." During the meeting, Queen Rania of Jordan denounced the deaths of millions of mothers and newborns every year.

"These figures are more than a source of discontent; they are an outrage, an injustice and they have no place in our common humanity," said the 43-year-old monarch of the tiny Middle East desert kingdom. The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, also praised Mr Harper for leadership on the issue, but said much more needs to be done.

"The truth is that our efforts have been insufficient and uneven," he said. "At the same time we must avoid the risk of frustration that sometimes accompanies a moment of reassessment. Our challenge, as always, is to balance honest realism with helpful optimism," he added. During the Summit, one half of the world's most powerful philanthropic couple praised Mr Harper's child and maternal health initiative, urging governments everywhere to support it for their own economic good.

Melinda Gates, who along with her husband Bill runs the Gates Foundation, said Canada has become an important partner in finding innovative ways to help the world's poorest people. Melinda gave the speech at the Summit aimed at reducing the millions of yearly deaths of young mothers, newborns and young children in developing countries. Melinda whose foundation also works in Tanzania made clear that she has the heft to advocate for the less fortunate, on whatever side of the power corridor she chooses to walk.

"When I talk to health ministers from developing countries, they want to hear how we can reduce mortality," she said. "When I talk to finance ministers, they want to hear how we can increase GDP. Well, let us make sure everybody knows that the answer is the same in both cases - Invest in the health of women and children" she says. Calling global health her second career, Melinda said there are solid economic reasons why the world no longer has to tolerate the deaths of far too many women and children.

"People still say that caring for women and children is too big an investment for too uncertain a return," she said. "We know that they're wrong, and we have powerful evidence that investing in women's and children's health generates an enormous return." Melinda lauded Harper for his "powerful advocacy on behalf of people in developing countries."

"Under your leadership, and with the support of many people in this room, Canada has earned a global reputation for driving the agenda when it comes to women and children," she told Canada's Premier Mr Harper. "The Muskoka Initiative rallied the entire world around saving mothers and their babies." Melinda said it has attracted attention and investments that have brought once elusive goals to within arm's reach.

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