Fresh perspectives on maternal, child and adolescent health

Young mothers and their children at a U.N. Development Program-sponsored health clinic in Myanmar. The youth must be included in conversations about reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.  

It’s been just one month since I joined The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and already I’ve heard some remarkable stories. I’m just back from a major consultation in New Delhi — hosted by the government of India, with the Every Woman Every Child movement — where more than 200 experts from 30 countries came together to reflect onprogress and consider the best approaches to steer us forward in the post-2015 environment.

Meeting up with all the partners, listening to their innovative ideas was truly inspiring. One private sector leader described a great initiative designed to deal with the perennial problem of supply chain bottlenecks in Nigeria. The company doubled pay to drivers who supplied contraceptives to pharmacies that had no stock-outs. Very rapidly, the out-of-stock rates dropped from 80 percent to 2 percent — and the drivers were seen stopping by pharmacies during weekends to check that shelves were full.

While this can be perceived as a classic private sector use of financial incentives, the driver clarified that it was not just the money that motivated him but a sense of pride in his community. He was the guy who made sure his community was healthy and safe.

This example reminded me why it is important for us to pull together. Governments play a central role, but we need to engage the private sector, civil society and others to get the results we want.

That’s why PMNCH is such an exciting mechanism, bringing together all of the sectors involved in maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. As we strive to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, and as we set out a new development agenda this year, I am reminded how important this partnership mechanism is to keep us united, focused and determined to act in alignment and speak with one voice.

That single voice represents many unmet needs, and in Delhi that voice spoke on behalf of those that face the harshest realities. In 2014, 80 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and of these, more than 75 percent were women and children, the majority deeply impoverished. Sixty percent of maternal deaths occur in humanitarian crisis settings — almost all are preventable. And just over half of under-5 child mortality occurs in regions marred by conflict, natural disaster and displacement camps.

These realities help us to focus, and move forward. We must work together to build a global health strategy for women, adolescents and children that supports countries to deliver results. We must ensure that we focus in the right place, where needs are most acute. Clearlyhumanitarian settings fall into that category.