National Safe Motherhood Alliance [Archives:2008/1217/Opinion]

December 18 2008

Dr. Nafisa Hamoud Al-Jaifi
When world leaders gathered last month at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to address the crisis of too little progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Sarah Brown, wife of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood leaders from eight nations – Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Nepal, Tanzania and Yemen – were there. Together, during a series of official and private events, including a women's dinner co-hosted by Sarah Brown and Queen Rania of Jordan, they challenged some of the world's most powerful government, business and civil society leaders to “play your part” to save the lives of women needlessly lost in pregnancy and childbirth.

“The ingredient needed to unlock progress is political will,” said Sarah Brown at a Commitment to Progress for Mothers, Newborns and Children event hosted by the Presidents of Chile, Finland and Tanzania and organized by the White Ribbon Alliance and a diverse coalition of international associations. “We know how to save the lives of mothers and children; we do not need to invent a cure. We simply need to decide to follow in the steps of those who have already succeeded.”

I represented Yemen in the conference to discuss the Millennium Development Goals and to assess the current status of maternal and child health.

For us in Yemen, when women have access to quality care before, during and after childbirth, lives of mothers can be saved, thus, contributing to a country's development. Yet, global funding for women's health is steadily declining and aid to the least developed nations has stalled since 2003. We appeal to the richer nations to provide assistance necessary to strengthen health systems and build up the skills of health workers in the communities where women die for lack of care.

We went to the UN to plea for more attention to improve women's health and reduce Maternal Mortality Rate. By uniting more people from all walks of life, within and across nations, we can create the environment necessary to save women's lives.

Although delegates to the UN meetings failed to take urgent steps to get on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal deaths by 75% by 2015, Sarah Brown and White Ribbon Alliance leaders were energized by the progress they made during their whirlwind week in NY. They emphasized that their purpose is to raise public awareness and build support for changes to ensure every woman's right and access to quality and affordable care in pregnancy and childbirth. They are encouraged by new commitments made by dozens of high-profile women, including first ladies, parliamentarians, fashion icons, pop performers, TV personalities, philanthropists and media executives to press for increased investments in women's health care. And, last month, thanks to excellent print and broadcast stories produced by media outlets in the UK and US, including features by CNN International and Time magazine, more people than ever before heard about the growing global movement holding political leaders to account for the devastation of maternal mortality.

Only by uniting ever more people from all walks of life, within and across nations, can we build the popular mandate and create the political will necessary to save women's lives.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, with members in 104 countries, is leading a global campaign – A Promise to Mothers Lost: Healthy Pregnancy and Safe Childbirth for All – to amplify demands for greater investment in maternal health and to catalyze public support to hold politicians and public officials accountable for ensuring systemic changes to give every woman access to quality health services.

Nafisa Hamoud Al-Jaifi is the Secretary General of the Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood and Chairwoman of the National Safe Motherhood Alliance.