Wow! What a week!
Poverty is an emergency, but progress on tackling poverty is usually painfully slow. This week, though, things sped up – and not because of policy types like me but because of campaigners like Chris, Michelle, Gemma and the Mummy Blogging community.
The terrible shame – and the wonderful opportunity – about maternal and child mortality is that we know what to do to save lives. We’re not waiting for a cure. As Richard Horton, Editor of the world’s best medical journal The Lancet put it, the key challenge isn’t technical, it’s political. What changes things is when we enough people in enough places speak out in one voice. The more people who speak out = the more politicians stand up and take notice = the more health workers governments hire = the more kids lives are saved.
In these past months over 300 organisations have come together in the campaign for more health workers. Through public hearings, rallies, facebook and twitter, pop concerts and seminars, stunts and parliamentary discussions, the Health Workers Count coalition has been helping to get the issue up the agenda and to rally support for saving lives by supporting more health workers.
This week in New York, the issue of health workers was heard loud and clear at the UN. (Here’s the presentation I gave on behalf of the coalition at the UN.) Most importantly, campaigners were taking the message to the airwaves, the newspapers, online and on the streets. I love this picture of campaigners taking over Times Square with this huge human mosaic declaring “Health Workers Save Lives” .
The campaign received major endorsements. Here’s a picture showing just two of them, amongst my favourites: Rapper 50 Cent together with Sierra Leone Midwives Association President Dr Joan Shepherd.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called health workers “unsung heroes”. The Guardian described the health worker gap as possibly the most important issue the UN is discussing.
Several governments stepped forward and made serious commitments:
- Bangladesh is going to double the percentage of births attended by a skilled health worker by 2015 and train 3,000 midwives; it will provide round-the-clock midwifery services, including emergency obstetric care.
- Ethiopia will increase the proportion of births attended by a skilled professional from 18% to 60%.
- Nepal will train and deploy 10,000 additional skilled birth attendants and fund free maternal health services among hard-to-reach populations.
- Congo will provide free obstetric care and free access to caesarian sections.
In short, mums and kids who would have died will now live. We didn’t get here from our policy reports alone (though this one – No Child Left Behind – is fantastic). We got here by mobilising people – across the world, in villages, slums, fancy shopping centres, you name it – and, crucially, online. It’s campaigning that got us here – as Chris, Dr Joan and I discussed in New York.
We didn’t get everything we want, everything mothers and children deserve, but we did get over 100 new commitments from a range of sectors. 44 of the 49 countries with the worst maternal and child mortality rates have now made commitments to the UN’s Every Woman Every Child strategy. And health workers are now an issue that leaders can’t ignore. We’re still not on track to meet the globally agreed goals for reducing child and maternal deaths though. We need at least 3.5 million more health workers in the poorest countries. We can’t afford not to. We have built great momentum and encouraged some champion governments to step up, but we need more. So this weekend we’ll rest and recharge, but then we’ll be back pressing governments to deliver on their promises and save lives.
Thank you to every one in the blogging community, and the campaigning community, for the difference you’ve made this week. You’ve saved lives.
We’re going to need your help again. Chris will be tweeting at you, asking you again to help out people you’ve never met, for no other reward other than a chance to help. And I know what you’ll say when she asks.
So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Campaign Mobilisation Director, Save the Children; and Coordinator of the Health Workers Count coalition
Follow Ben on twitter at http://twitter.com/atbenphillips