U.N. Promotes Health Campaign for Women, Children

September 22, 2010 - 6:07 AM

United Nations (AP) - A global campaign that aims to save the lives of 16 million mothers and children over the next five years was being launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday with as much as $40 billion in commitments from world governments and private aid groups.

The so-called Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health was being announced at the end of a three-day summit to review efforts to implement anti-poverty goals adopted at a summit in 2000. These include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and cutting child and maternal mortality.

"Women and children play a crucial role in development," Ban said in a statement prepared for the event that was released by his office. "Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do -- it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies. "

Ban has made the reduction of maternal and child deaths a personal campaign, and it has been a key topic during the summit. Worldwide every year, an estimated 8 million children die before reaching their 5th birthday, and about 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth.

Even before the details were announced, the international aid organization Oxfam expressed skepticism about how much money was truly new, and how the program would be administered and held accountable.

"That kind of money would go a long way toward reaching the child and maternal health goals, but we have a big concern," said Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery. "Where will that money come from?

"Half of the donors cut their aid last year" amid the global economic crisis, she said. "We're just nervous that it will be governments bringing together a lot of previous commitments, and that won't mean much for poor people."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected at the afternoon "Every Woman, Every Child" event, along with world leaders including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the prime ministers of Ethiopia, Norway, and Tanzania. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also on the advance roster of speakers.

"When we first started talking about this five years ago, there didn't seem to be any interest, very little commitment," said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, a pediatrician who heads the World Health Organization's Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Geneva, Switzerland.

"But with the help of many, and the leadership of the Secretary General, this week is like a dream come true," said Bustreo, whose organization has worked with Ban's office on the strategy in recent months.

WHO will chair the global strategy, with a progress report delivered annually to the U.N. General Assembly, she said.

Bustreo said some money could be used to pay for simple, inexpensive tools and practices that could save millions of the world's children each year.

She said the 1 million newborns who die each year through aspiration -- literally drowning from fluid in the breathing passage -- could have been saved with a tool that has a bulb like a turkey baster that uses suction to clear away liquids.

The lives of older children can be saved with re-hydration liquids to combat diarrhea, immunizations for childhood diseases like measles, and vitamin supplements to fight malnutrition, she said.

Improving maternal health is more difficult -- and costly. Bustreo said half of all maternal deaths are caused by complications of delivery, such as obstructive labor, that require surgery.

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.