Investing in youths and maternal and child health
Mr. Bunmi Makinwa
Director, Africa Regional Office
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Presentation to the Pan-African Parliament, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
On behalf of all my colleagues in UNFPA, the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and myself, I want to sincerely thank you parliamentarians, especially the President of the Pan-African Parliament, for the opportunity to be with you at this meeting. I want to acknowledge the efforts of the Pan-African Parliament in mobilising its members and national parliaments to support maternal and child health in Africa. I know you have been working through the Chairs of the Budget and Finance, Health and Gender Committees. I am also aware that you have adopted a motion on renewing attention and increasing financing for women’s and children’s health and youth development in this your current session. Thank you for the attention you are giving to maternal and child health and youth development on our continent.
We need to invest in the youth of Africa
UNFPA has been supporting African governments and their people in the development and implementation of policies, action plans and programmes that address women’s and children’s health, and protect the sexual and reproductive health of young people, including HIV prevention. We know that in Africa, young people below the age of 25 years comprise about 60 to 65 per cent of the population of our respective countries. And if we go by the African Union definition of 'youth' being up to the age of 35 years, it means about 70 to 75 per cent of our population falls within this age group.
I am sure that you then agree with me that Africa’s young people are its greatest asset if we invest appropriately in their education, skills development and health, and provide them with opportunities for decent employment and entrepreneurship. It is by investing appropriately in our young people that we will ensure the human capital needs of the continent.
We need to reduce maternal deaths in Africa
Another issue of importance for the development of this continent is maternal mortality. Despite the fact that Africa has made some progress in the past couple of years, with a 27 per cent reduction in maternal deaths between 1990 and 2008, a total of 189,000 of the 358,000 maternal deaths that occur every year globally still take place in Africa.
Because of the importance of women’s and children’s health for development in Africa, the African Union Summit in July 2010 devoted its 15th Session in Kampala, Uganda to renewing its commitment to Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH), including the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). At least 29 presidents and heads of government loudly voiced their renewed commitment and support to maternal, newborn and child health. Consequently, at the African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in July 2011 , African presidents and heads of government also recommitted themselves to youth development in Africa.
Support for CARMMA has been overwhelming
In addition to the many interventions being implemented in your respective countries with the support of UNFPA and other development partners, UNFPA at the regional level supported the African Union and its ministers of health in launching the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). The aim of this campaign is to mobilise the commitment and support of leaders and to mobilise communities to renew and intensify their efforts to reduce maternal mortality. Although it was intended that eight countries would launch CARMMA each year, because of the magnitude of the problem and the commitment of national authorities, I am happy to inform you that 34 countries have already launched CARMMA within only two years of the launch in May 2009. Many of your respective countries are among the countries that have launched CARMMA. I am also aware that many more countries have promised to launch in November, during which the African Union has undertaken to hold CARMMA week.
UNFPA is also working with a number of other health development partners under Harmonisation for Health Africa (HHA), to facilitate the dialogue between the Ministers of Finance and Ministers of Health to increase domestic health financing in Africa. This is vital to ensuring predictable and sustainable health financing.
For the progress that we are making in Africa on maternal, newborn and child health, including HIV prevention and contributions to youth development, I want to sincerely thank every one of you for your individual governmentmental efforts and collective contributions through the Pan African Parliament. We know that our current status will allow many of our countries to reach the MDGs, especially MDG 4 on Child Health, MDG 5 on Maternal Health and MDG 6 on HIV and AIDS.
Economics of investing in maternal health
In countries and communities where women have adequate access to reproductive health services—such as family planning, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric and neonatal care—survival rates are high and maternal and newborn deaths are rare. Access to reproductive health, in particular family planning and maternal health services, helps women and girls avoid unwanted or early pregnancy, unsafe abortions, as well as pregnancy‐related disabilities.
This means that women stay healthier and are more productive. They have more opportunities for education, training and employment, which in turn benefits their families, their communities and ultimately, their nations. Investment in reproductive health is cost effective. For example, each dollar invested in contraceptive services saves up to $4 in health expenditure and as much as $31 in other social services such as education, housing and sanitation. It is estimated that family planning alone could reduce maternal mortality by as much as 40 per cent. When a mother dies, when an orphaned child does not get the food or education he or she needs, when a young girl grows in a life without opportunities, the consequences extend beyond the existence of these individuals. They diminish society as a whole and lessen the chance for peace, prosperity and stability.
Based on experiences and lessons learned, we know what we need to address maternal, newborn and child health in Africa. These are as follows:
- strengthening health systems (including primary health care) to provide family planning, skilled health providers, emergency obstetric care and HIV prevention;
- political commitment and financial support to implement, replicate and scale-up successful policies and programmes;
- community mobilisation and social change for their involvement and participation;
- co-ordination of multi-sectoral partnerships under national ownership and leadership.
Commitment of development partners
UNFPA, in collaboration with other partners, would like to reiterate its commitment to supporting African governments in their efforts to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality in the region. We would like to work more closely with the Pan African Parliament and your respective national parliaments to intensify commitment and financial support to maternal newborn and child health and youth development in your respective countries.
What is the role of parliamentarians?
From the above section on what is needed to reduce maternal deaths, you will notice that three of the four interventions needed are not medical. This means, hypothetically, that 75 per cent of what is needed falls outside the medical field. If the interventions are observed closely, you will notice that the three in question are within the reach of parliamentarians and policy makers in countries. These are as follows:
- political commitment and financial support;
- community mobilisation, involvement and participation, including social change;
- co-ordination of multi-sectoral partnerships under national ownership and leadership.
Honourable Parliamentarians, I will therefore conclude this statement by saying that the key to the development of this continent is in your hands. As parliamentarians, you make all the policy decisions — you make the decisions about the distribution or allocation of budgets, and you make the decisions about what gets done and what does not get done. I hope that, based on your decisions, Africa will develop. The future of Africa is your hands. If we take the right decision by supporting and investing in women’s health and young people, Africa will become prosperous.
I would therefore like to use this occasion to request that you:
- increase your individual commitment to maternal, newborn and child health, and youth development in Africa;
- increase your budgetary allocations to health in your respective parliaments;
- use your influential positions to create awareness and mobilise your communities to intensify their support and increase their investment in women’s and children’s health and youth development so that Africa will continue to develop and enjoy increased economic growth.
I can assure you that if you take care of the health and other needs of mothers and young people, you will always win the majority of the vote.