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Promises alone won’t train health workers or immunise children

A high-level Commission set up to monitor commitments on maternal, newborn and child health met for the first time this week in Geneva.

The Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, as it’s known, met to discuss how best to drive implementation of the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy, ‘Every Woman, Every Child’. This landmark strategy was adopted at the Millennium Development Goal Summit in New York last September and attracted a broad range of commitments from governments and other sectors. An enormous $40 billion was also pledged towards a global effort to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.

The Commission is co-chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania. Along with 27 other commissioners (including UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell), they will develop an accountability framework that will help countries monitor where resources go and how they are spent. This will also provide the evidence to show which programmes will save lives.

A major challenge for the Commission is to ensure this isn’t another bold plan that’s never put into action. Making commitments is the easy part. “The world’s women and children need more than pledges,” UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon told reporters ahead of the Commission meeting. “Commitments are wonderful, generous, but by themselves they cannot build health clinics or immunise children.”

Measuring progress for the poorest

We also need to make sure the poorest and most marginalised mothers and children aren’t left behind. Ahead of the meeting, Save the Children issued a statement to Commission members calling for equity to be at the heart of Every Woman, Every Child and for there to be a way to measure improvement in health across all social and economic groups.   

And of course we have to hold ourselves to account. Save the Children was one of a number of organisations who made a contribution to the strategy. As part of our global EVERY ONE campaign, Save the Children has committed to a number of actions including the training of 400,000 health workers and promoting policy changes that accelerate progress on MDG 4 and we will publish our progress against them. If we expect governments to keep their promises, then we need to lead by example!

Initial discussions  have been promising, with a welcomed focus on accountability and transparency. Commissioners will meet again in May to agree specific, concrete steps to advance how results are measured, resources are tracked and progress is reported. A final report will be issued in May and launched at the UN General Assembly in September.

Save the Children will be working hard in the lead up to the General Assembly and beyond to ensure that the political momentum behind Every Woman, Every Child is sustained and makes a tangible difference to the lives of children and their mothers.

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