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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

By Archibald Adams

Moving from Promises to Action to improve maternal health

Accra, March 07, 2012--The Executive Director of the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights (ARHR), Vicky Okine, has called for collaborative efforts from all relevant stakeholders towards the fight against maternal and child mortality and accelerate progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5.

In a press release to commemorate International Women's Day, on the theme “Empower Women to End Hunger and Poverty”, the Executive Director said, “moving from promises to action by investing in women and children will move us faster and cost-effectively towards meeting the MDGs especially MDG 5 on maternal mortality”.

She noted that maternal mortality (MM) continues to be a global tragedy and MDG 5 on maternal mortality is the lone goal that has seen the least progress worldwide. According to statistics from the United Nations, each year, more than 350,000 women in the developing world aged 15-49 die of pregnancy and child-birth related complications. About 2.6 million children are stillborn, and a further 8.1 million die before their fifth birthday, including 3.3 million babies in the first month of life. About 99% of the deaths occur in developing countries. Asia and sub-saharan Africa accounted for 87% (313,000) of global maternal deaths. A woman's lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy is 1 in 3700 in North America compared to 1 in 16 in Africa. In Ghana, the risk is 1 in 35 (WHO, n.d.).

Although Ghana's maternal mortality ratio reduced from 540/100 000 in 2000, to 451/100 000 in 2007 to 350/100 000 in 2008, the reduction is estimated to be at a rate of 3.3% annually compared to 5.5% annual rate required to attain MDG 5 target of 185/100 000 by 2015 (WHO, World Bank, UNFPA report on trend on MM, 2008). Ghana is thus unlikely to attain MDG 5 by 2015. ARHR finds this unacceptable and agrees with the World Health Organisation (WHO) that simple interventions by all stakeholders can contribute to reducing these senseless deaths.

Ironically, she stated, Ghana is one of the many developing countries quick to ratify international conventions aimed to improving reproductive and maternal health. Ghana ratified the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD); the Maputo Plan of Action, the Abuja target of allocating at least 15% of national budgets to health and the Campaign to Accelerate Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) to mention a few. To date however, reducing maternal and child mortality as outlined in these documents remains unattained. Unmet need for family planning remains at a high 35%, skilled delivery at a low 45.6%, acute shortage of midwives persist while health staff remain inequitably distributed with 43% of doctors in Greater Accra Region and 4% for three northern regions (MoH review report, 2010).

The Executive Director said the UN “Every Woman, Every Child Global Strategy” is a great opportunity for Ghana to work towards reducing maternal and child mortality. She said the Strategy launched in September 2010 to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in developing countries has more than 40 billion US dollars in commitments. The Strategy seeks to build on the Campaign to Accelerate Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). Key outcomes of the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy will include preventing the deaths of more than fifteen million children under five, including more than three million newborns, preventing thirty three million unwanted pregnancies, and about five hundred and 70,000 women from dying from pregnancy and c child-birth complications. A further 88 million children will be protected from stunted growth and 120 million children protected from pneumonia (White Ribbon Alliance, n.d.).

She is therefore calling on government and all relevant stakeholders to help improve maternal health by investing in family planning services and education, skilled care at delivery and provision of emergency obstetric care services especially in rural areas. She urged civil society organizations (CSOs) to effectively monitor various interventions and hold government accountable. She called on like-minded CSOs not to renege in their efforts but increase the pace of their actions towards improved reproductive and maternal health outcomes. The Executive Director further called on CSOs to exert collective pressure on our governments to translate promises related to maternal and newborn health, sexual and reproductive health rights into reality. Adding that a sustained political commitment coupled with a strong financial backing and implementation of all the existing maternal policies will help reduce maternal mortality rates by three quarters by 2015. Women and children cannot wait indefinitely while endless debates and discussions on the subject continue. The time to act is now.

To mark this important day, the International Women's Day, ARHR enjoins all reproductive health organizations around the globe to advocate for improved maternal health at all levels from policy makers. In Ghana, ARHR and key partners had a meeting with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health for their support in improving maternal health.

She noted that the ARHR for the past seven (7) years has been advocating for improved reproductive and maternal health though campaigns and other activities.