ABUJA, Nigeria – At the ministerial meeting of the United Nations Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, health ministers from seven African countries committed to speed-up access to and use of 13 life-saving commodities to all women and children in their countries by 2015.
The meeting, hosted by the Government of Nigeria with the support of the Commission Secretariat, UNFPA and UNICEF, was a culmination of efforts by countries and the global community to address a key constraint to improving lives of women and children all over the world: limited access to life-savings commodities.
The Commission was established to take on the challenge outlined in the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health. It has developed 10 recommendations, the implementation of which could save the lives of more than six million women and children around the world by 2015.
At the opening ceremony on 14 October, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, the Nigerian Minister of Health, set the tone:
“We will be taking the first set of concrete steps towards making these recommendations a reality. Over the next three days, we will share information on the UN Commission, its recommendations and implementation plan; we will share best practices for increasing access to life-saving commodities and we will review the draft implementation plan, and reflect country priorities and needs.”
Ministers of health, development partners, private sector and civil society in attendance
He was speaking to a group that included ministers of health from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda; development partners including UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, USAID and the Government of Norway; as well as other government representatives and private sector and civil society leaders.
Dr. Pate also expressed his gratitude to the President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan, for his leadership and effort, both globally -- as the co-chair of the Commission along with the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg -- and locally, for the unprecedented support given to the health sector and towards improving the health and wellbeing of women and children in Nigeria. On 16 October, the Nigerian Government launched a national programme aimed at 'Saving One Million Lives' by 2015, through equitably increasing access to, and use of, quality cost-effective basic health services and commodities.
In his statement, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, one of the vice-chairs of the Commission, said, “Too often, affordable, effective medicines and health supplies do not reach the women and children who need them most.” Their availability, he added, is “an essential part of well-functioning systems that are able to serve people in an equitable manner.”
Dr. Osotimehin explained that all the participants at this meeting can contribute by focusing on some usually low cost but high impact supplies and interventions. “Family planning alone can reduce one third of maternal deaths,” he pointed out.
UNFPA is committed to help increase financial and political commitment to the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission, with strong support by leaders. “Let's be together, let’s pledge that every country will have all of us working together as a continuum of care, help governments to achieve MDG goals particularly health related goals,” the Executive Director concluded.
Ministerial reports and pledges
On the second day of the meeting, health ministers reported on their country progress and commitments, including implementation of the Commission recommendations, increase of national health budgets or creation of specific budget lines for commodities, and use of new communication technologies. Notable pledges include a fivefold budget increase for family planning in Senegal, while Sierra Leone promised to increase its health budget by 50 per cent in 2013.
Partners, including USAID and the Government of Norway, reiterated their commitments as well.
Ministerial Communique adopted
At the conclusion of the meeting, the ministers adopted a Ministerial Communique on the Implementation of the Recommendations by which they commit to:
- Review the status of the 13 life-saving commodities, as well as opportunities, bottlenecks and gaps in their respective countries;
- Engage national stakeholders including parliamentarians, private sector, civil society, technical and financial development partners;
- Develop effective scale-up plans founded on evidence-based strategies, leading to the prioritization of high impact interventions;
- Work with development partners and other stakeholders to carry-out the necessary actions to ensure sustainable and equitable access to and use of life saving commodities to all women and children in their respective countries by 2015, including relevant systems strengthening, demand creation (as part of a long-term strategic plan);
- Continue to engage their respective governments to allocate additional funding and sustainable budget lines for life-saving commodities by 2015.