As part of concerted efforts to improve the health of the Continent's citizens and reduce maternal and child deaths, the Government of Kenya and the African Union Commission (AUC), in collaboration with UN agencies and key partners, gathered yesterday 19th November 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya to celebrate the AU's Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). Commemorations are taking place this week under the theme "Moving CARMMA to the next level: Mobilizing to End Maternal and Child Death in Africa by 2030", and the AU hope to accelerate and renew momentum towards ending preventable maternal and child mortality in the region. The main objective of the campaign, which was launched in 2009, is to promote accelerated and intensified implementation of the Maputo Plan of Action to ensure universal access to comprehensive integrated sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Delivering the keynote address, the First Lady of Kenya, H.E Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta urged African countries that have not embraced CARMMA to do so to enable the continent move forward together."Investing in women's and children's health is vital for sustainable economic and social development. Healthy women and children contribute to healthy economies, political stability and shared prosperity" Mrs. Kenya emphasized. "This (reduction of deaths) is good news for mothers and children in Africa. But it is not enough. We are not yet there. More needs to be done. We must, therefore, prioritize maternal and newborn survival and mobilize resources at all levels" she said. The First Lady said the huge loss of life occasioned by poor access to life saving healthcare should be a great concern to all people of goodwill."I believe that it is possible to make progress through strategic and coordinated efforts and working together", said the First Lady, who is also the Chairperson of the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA).
Speaking on behalf of the African Union, H.E. Mr. Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission expressed delight that 45 Member States have launched and successfully domesticated the campaign that will ultimately ensure better health outcomes for women, children and newborns. He emphasized that CARMMA remains a key vehicle for moving the continent towards the attainment of this noble goal and called on AU Member States to focus on high-impact interventions that can greatly reduce these preventable deaths. "Importantly, these interventions require the overall strengthening of health systems, reducing health inequities, and maintaining a drive towards universal health coverage," he added. The Deputy AU Chairperson pointed that the continent's leadership is determined,more than ever, to ensure maternal and child health takes centre stage on the African development agenda as we enter the era of the Sustainable Development Goals. He asserted that the Commission will continue championing Africa's political commitment and leadership in maternal, newborn and child health to consolidate the gains made, achieve unattained goals, and sustain momentum for attaining the aspirations of our Agenda 2063. Earlier, the AU Commissioner for Social Services, AU commission, Dr. Mustapha Kaloko said Kenya was chosen to host the CARMMA commemoration week due to the leading role played by the First Lady in championing maternal health issues.
Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Regional Director of UNFPA's East and Southern Africa Regional Office reiterated her organizations' commitment to working with AU and Member States to ensure every woman and young person has access to the sexual and reproductive health services they need, maintaining that no woman should die giving life and that all young people are able to reach their full potential. She warned that many young girls in Africa lack access to a caring and supportive environment at home and in their communities, and do not receive enough sexual and reproductive health education, as well as lacking access to family planning commodities and youth-friendly services. Dr. Onabanjo called on Africa to take advantage of its youthful population and "reap the demographic dividend by making the necessary triangular investments in our young people's health, education, and economic empowerment, and in preventing child marriage and teenage pregnancy".
In her remarks, Ambassador Susan Page, the Charge d' Affaires, US Mission to the AU expressed satisfaction that CARMMA has been very successful in mobilizing political goodwill in support of maternal health and child survival on the continent. She reiterated US Government commitments to partnering the AU to realize the continents development aspirations contained in the Agenda 2063 framework
For her part, the Representative of UN Women to the African UnionMsFunmiBalogunexpressed delight with the fact there is global universal consensus that achieving gender equality is critical to the wellbeing of individuals, families, households and societies."All these prove that with concerted international efforts and assistance, with leadership from women, the gender gaps and inequalities can be eradicated", she emphasized. She however cautioned that there are still many challenges ahead as violence against women, including sexual violence,continue to rise and women's bodies continue to be used as battlefields in conflict.
As part of the commemoration, two new reports were released by the AU and partners. The reports, "Maternal, Newborn and Child Health 2014 Status Report" and "Gender Mainstreaming Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Systems in Africa" call upon all AU Member States and partners to focus on the implementation of interventions that address the main causes of maternal and child mortality including complications during childbirth.
The Commission called for increased partnership, commitment, and the involvement of a variety of stakeholders to support CARMMA activities in the SDG era by enhancing awareness on gender inequality as a contributor to child and maternal morbidity and mortality.It is hoped that the commemorations with increase awareness and enhance political commitment and leadership on ending preventable maternal and child deaths on the continent.