African Union commits to maternal and child health and malaria

Guest Blog by Kathryn Bertram, VOICES Project

African leaders attending the 15th African Union Summit from 19th to the 27th July in Kampala agreed to extend the Abuja call towards accelerating universal access to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria services in Africa, and called on the Global Fund to create a new window to fund maternal, newborn and child health.

auchair.JPGAccording to the AU declaration: “We appeal to development partners and donors for the replenishment of The Global Fund during its October 2010 meeting and to ensure that the new pledges are earmarked for Maternal Newborn and Child Health.”

This year’s AU Summit carried the theme of maternal, newborn and child heath in order to fill a gap that critics say existed in the African Union’s health strategies. At least 35 heads of state attended the event, despite the recent Al-Shabaab bombings that killed scores in Kampala the week before.

African Heads of State participated in at least two maternal, newborn and child health events, one of which—a maternal and child health-themed advocacy gala—was jointly sponsored by the VOICES project at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Communication Programs (JHU-CCP) and 10 other global health organizations.

Organizations called on heads of state to increase commitments to improve the health of women and children in Africa and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

mus_speech.JPGDemonstrating that global health organizations with disparate agendas can integrate their calls to action effectively,  partners included JHU-CCP, United Against Malaria, African Leaders Malaria Alliance, UNAIDS, StopTB Partnership, Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UNITAID, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, and the United Nations Foundation in addition to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Friends Africa, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

Maternal, newborn, and child health and development is an important issue for malaria prevention advocates as malaria heavily impacts pregnant women and children. Although recent surveys show that fewer children under-five years in Africa are dying from malaria—and ITN use by children rose 20% over 8 years across 26 African nations—malaria is still a major killer of this age group, accounting for one quarter of all deaths.

Fifty million pregnant women are also affected by malaria, accounting for ten percent of maternal mortality annually.

yvonne_presidents.JPGUganda President H.E. Yoweri Museveni reminded other African heads of state that health investments are development investments. “We know that when we focus our resources, we have measurable impact,” he said, pointing to successes relating to maternal and child health. “For instance, 10% more children and 9% more women [in Uganda] now sleep under nets compared with six years ago.”

United Against Malaria Ambassador and African singing sensation, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, said, “So much progress has been made to stop the under-fives dying from malaria, to prevent children being orphaned by TB and HIV/AIDS…and to curb preventable diseases with widespread immunization efforts. We must continue and ramp up efforts for women and children in recognition of their importance for Africa’s future.”

According to the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Bience Gawanas, the summit was “historic.” She said, “[W]e have been asking about political will and leadership and there is no doubt that the AU heads of states and governments have shown the political will to promote maternal and child health on the continent.”

More information about the joint health advocacy events and the AU assembly declaration is available at the VOICES website.

Photos are of Uganda President H.E. Yoweri Museveni, AU Chair H.E. Bingu wa Mutharika, President of Malawi, and Yvonne Chaka Chaka with President Kikiwete of Tanzania.

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