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The limitations of the MDGs

Here in Melbourne, Save the Children Australia is playing a very active part in the UN DPI/NGO conference on global health.

Today Jasmine Whitbread and I took part in a discussion about the Millennium Development Goals and lessons learned for any targets which might apply after 2015.

Save the Children colleagues from Vanuatu, Bangladesh, Laos and Australia are taking part in many sessions here and Australian colleagues are promoting their EVERY ONE campaign with thumb prints and campaign and policy materials.

Australia (currently in government limbo folllowing the election) is making good progress on aid but has not committed to meet the 0.7% target. Our colleagues have taken part in workshops on maternal and child health, primary care and child rights. Yesterday, Jasmine Whitbread (now the Chief Executive of Save the Children International) and I were panellists for a discussion about the future of the MDGs.

Jasmine made an introduction about the continued importance of the MDGs as the best advocacy opportunity we have for child and maternal health. Although there are clearly problems with them, and progress is patchy, they have an unprecedented global commitment which will be difficult to recreate. We have five years to make a difference and this is why our EVERY ONE campaign is running in so many countries.

I looked at what lessons we can learn from their limitations, especially the lack of equity targets which is the subject of a report we will be publishing in the next few weeks. In many countries progress on the national averages for child mortality hides a lack of progress or even rising rates in the poorest sections of populations. Even in Australia, national wealth masks high child mortality and poverty in its indigenous communities.

The MDGs did not include commitments to quality, rights and inputs, which hampers their progress and limits sustainable activities like building strong health systems. I argued that the human rights commitments to health and survival offer more a much more construtive approach that could be taken in future, with commitments to ensuring universal access to entitlements.
Clearly, we must avoid too early a discusson of what might follow the MDGs. They need the world’s commitment to rescue them. But the lessons learned from their limitations should affect what action we want to see now as well as in the future.

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