UNITED NATIONS — Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal and some of the world’s other poorest countries delivered not only money but new services in the year since U.N. member states pledged more than $40 billion to save the lives of mothers and children, a new study of the spending said Tuesday.
The spending report was released at a high-level event chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made raising money for the health of mothers and their children a special project.
Ban told a gathering at U.N. headquarters that when he was born in 1944 in South Korea, child mortality was so prevalent that families often waited months to register births to make certain babies would survive. The secretary-general noted that his official birth date of June 13 is several months after his actual birth.
“In our time, it is wrong to allow women and children to die when we have the tools to save them,” Ban said of the maternal and child health initiative. “I am happy to say that one year later we are delivering.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told the gathering that in the past year “600,000 more children survived to grow up and go to school,” and an additional 70,000 mothers survived childbirth. “But too many mothers and children are still dying from preventable causes,” he said.
Dr. Julio Frenk, chairman of the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, said in an earlier interview that he was especially pleased that some poorer nations are assuming more financial responsibility for their development needs.
Frenk, who is also dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and a former health secretary of Mexico, said those countries are “moving away from the paternalistic to a framework for shared accountability.”
Frenk said that close to $45 billion has been committed to the U.N. initiative known as Every Woman Every Child, passing the initial pledges of $40 billion made a year ago. That includes about $11 billion from the world’s poorer countries, and $13.7 billion from high income governments including the United States, Britain, Canada and Norway.
“I am delighted by the progress since last year,” said pediatrician Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general for family, women’s and children’s health. She added that commitments have included not only money, but changes in policy and delivery of services.
Bustreo said more is still needed to treat severe infections in newborns and increase postnatal visits by mothers and babies. Up to 1 million more “front-line” health workers, especially midwives, are needed to care for mothers and their babies around the world, she added.
The report shows that Bangladesh and many of the other poorer countries that made pledges last year set aside more funds for better health care of mothers and small children within their borders as they take more responsibility for their own development.
As for policy changes, Bangladesh said it would train 3,000 midwives and double the percentage of births in the country attended by a skilled health worker. Nepal began training 10,000 more skilled birth attendants.
Frenk said the collective effort is critical to meeting the U.N.’s global goal of saving the lives of 16 million mothers and children by 2015.
Worldwide every year, an estimated 8 million children die before reaching their 5th birthday, and about 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth.
In 2000, the U.N. set “Millennium Development Goals” that included reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015. The goals also included cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
On the eve of the Tuesday launch, the Secretary-General praised private companies for raising more than $1.1 billion for the initiative.
The companies include Johnson & Johnson, which is embarking on a four-year partnership with the World Health Organization, other U.N. agencies and the World Bank to strengthen training for health workers in Tanzania and Ethiopia.
“Every Woman Every Child has shown what can be achieved through close cooperation between the U.N., governments, and the private sector,” Ban said.
Another example of such cooperation is the GAVI Matching Fund for Immunization, a new private-public initiative in which Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation match private sector contributions to deliver vaccines to the poorest nations.