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The Women Deliver conference – what’s new?

The Women Deliver Conference in Washington last week was impressive for many reasons: it had more than 3,000 attendees, a $1.5bn pledge by the Gates Foundation for maternal health, and new evidence was presented by the Countdown Group on progress towards Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5.

Yet it failed to inspire me. A lot of the plenary sessions were too ‘nice’ for my liking, too focused on the common ground rather than discussing the differences, and hence reach real breakthroughs. It was touching to hear an Afghan girl tell us of her fight for the youth in her country, or a woman to tell us of the problems faced by women in Sierra Leone. Yet what did we get out of this?

Maybe a warm feeling that we heard the stories and were part of the moment, maybe a reassurance that all 3,000 attendees would take the points forward in our own worlds and ensure these struggles are not in vain. Maybe. Yet nothing I heard on the three days, aside from the Countdown sessions, were new. We even had a discussion of the Joint Platform for Health Systems Strengthening where all stakeholders were saying the platform is indeed taking place, when in fact it is not (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and Global Fund are going ahead, but independently from the World Bank).

On the other hand, the Countdown presentations were fascinating: the group launched its decade report, painting a more hopeful picture on progress towards MDGs 4 and 5 than expected. For example of the 68 countdown countries, 19 are on track to reach MDG4. Yet in 12 countries progress has slowed since 2000 and equity continues to be a great concern for all 68 countries.

The Countdown group has also calculated the financing gap to reach MDGs 4 and 5: US$60bn until 2015. This is less daunting probably then the hundreds of billions the Taskforce for Innovative Financing was asking for all the health-related MDGs (see article on the Taskforce).

So overall, I was left disappointed by the Conference, but interested by the new data presented. Let’s hope that the upcoming G8, which will be focusing on maternal and child health, will deliver the promises — and the reality — of these funds for the years to come, and that all this effort materialises into real change for the women and children living in low-income countries.

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