One of the most striking admissions I heard during the Women Deliver 2010 conference in Washington DC (June 7-9) was that the major challenge facing maternal health improvement is a lack of political will. Kathleen Sebelius, the US Secretary for Health and Human Services, suggested that the problem with improving maternal mortality lay not with the lack of knowledge or interventions, but the political will to put that knowledge to action, the will to make maternal mortality a priority of governments, the will to stand up and say that the lives of women matter, and we MUST do something about it.
I spent three days hearing people talking about proven interventions – improving human resources for health so that more clinics and facilities have trained birth attendants and midwives presiding over deliveries, expansion of in-service training to include Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC) to more professionals and thus more clinics, wider distribution of clean delivery kits, immunization, kangaroo mother care, exclusive breast feeding, access to safe abortion, family planning, and antenatal care. The incredible people working in the field of maternal health know what to do, and how to do it. They do not have the power to demand the funds from their governments to make these interventions widespread. They do not have the power to make maternal mortality a national (or international) priority. They do not have the power to make their voices heard.
What I find to be the most striking about this, is the power that other, similar, causes have. LiveSTRONG is an amazing example. Lance Armstrong, and the rest of his team, have done a remarkable job of raising awareness, dollars, and determination to find a cure for cancer. TO FIND A CURE. There are a huge number of organizations and foundations to remarkable work to find a cure for cancer. Not that this work isn’t important, it is. But I find it mind-boggeling that so many resources are being poured into something that, right now, at this moment, we do not have the power to do anything about. Every day, nearly 1,500 women die giving life, and we know how to prevent almost 1,300, or 90%, of those deaths. The brains, the brute, and the determination is all there on the practitioner side, what we need is for our politicians to stand beside us, and let us do our work and save over one thousand womens lives, everyday.
All of this supports the awful reality is that women don’t matter; that our lives are somehow less valuable. However, after WD2010 and the Annual Global Health Council meeting last week, I cannot believe that to be true. In the run up to the MDG’s it’s more important now, than ever, to make the final push to achieve MDG-5. I hope that the world’s politician’s, starting with the G8 and G20 meetings next week, agree and finally put their political will behind the remarkable practitioners working tirelessly in less than ideal conditions, fighting to save mothers lives, everyday.