UN launches $40bn woman and child health plan

A woman with a newborn baby in Kathmandu, Nepal (10 Sept 2010)
Image caption Many women's lives could be saved by access to basic maternal healthcare

The UN has launched a $40bn (£25.5bn) health initiative aimed at saving the lives of 16 million women and children over the next five years.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said women and children "play a crucial role in development".

About eight million under-fives die every year and more than a third of a million women lose their lives during pregnancy or childbirth.

Funds for the plan have been pledged by governments and private aid groups.

Mr Ban announced the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health in New York, where some 140 world leaders are meeting to discuss progress towards achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The eight goals, adopted 10 years ago, aim to lift millions out of poverty, improve healthcare for the world's poorest people and increase access to education.

Progress on women and children's healthcare has been slower than on some of the other goals discussed at the three-day summit but Mr Ban said the coming century "must be and will be different for every woman and every child".

"We know what works to save women's and children's lives, and we know that women and children are critical to all of the Millennium Development Goals," he said in a statement.

"Women and children play a crucial role in development. Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do - it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies."

The UN said $40bn had already been committed by foundations, international agencies and private individuals although it was unclear how much of the money was new funding.

Aid agencies welcomed the move but raised concerns about where the money was coming from.

Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery said half of all international donors cut their aid in 2009.

"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," she told the Associated Press news agency.

The Millennium Development Goals aim to tackle global poverty and improve living standards for developing countries. We've taken key indicators, broken down by UN-defined regions as shown here, and set the 2015 target as a baseline to reveal the true picture of how each region is faring.
Developing nations are on track to meet the poverty target largely because of progress in China. But in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia the proportion of hungry people has increased. Globally, the number of hungry people rose from 842 million in 1990-92 to 1.02 billion people in 2009.
While countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen great improvements by abolishing school fees and offering free school lunches, the target is unlikely to be met. The drop-out rate is high, and although there has been some investment in teachers and classrooms, it is not enough.
Gender gaps in education have narrowed, but remain high at university (tertiary) level in some developing countries because of poverty. Employment for women has improved but there are still many more women than men in low-paid jobs. There have been small gains for women in political power.
Child deaths are falling but at the current rate are well short of the two-thirds target. They more than halved in Northern Africa, Asia,Latin America and the Caribbean but remain high in parts of Southern Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of children who have died actually increased.
Although in all regions there are advances in providing pregnant women with antenatal care, the maternal mortality rate is unacceptably high, with progress well short of the decline needed to meet the target. Those at most risk are adolescent girls, yet funding on family planning is falling behind.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has stabilised in most regions, but new infections are rising in some areas and antiretroviral treatment has mushroomed. Global funding has helped control malaria but is still far short of what is needed. On current trends tuberculosis will have been halted and started to reverse.
The world will meet the drinking water target on current trends but half the population of developing regions still lacks basic sanitation. The 2010 target to slow decline in biodiversity has been missed. Improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has been achieved but their actual numbers are rising.
Levels of aid continue to rise, but major donors are well below target. In terms of volume the USA, France, Germany, UK and Japan are the largest donors. G8 countries have failed to deliver on a promise to double aid to Africa. Debt burdens have been eased for developing countries.
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