MLI Newsletter - October 12th 2011

October 12, 2011

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Minister Bangura visits Cuba, secures health workers for Sierra Leone

Haja Zainab Bangura, Sierra Leone's Health and Sanitation Minister, was in the United States last month for two high-level meetings with the United Nations: one on non-communicable diseases and another on reproductive health commodity security. The meetings were not her only official business in the Western hemisphere during September as she made a visit to Cuba in an effort to recruit health personnel. South Africa has given Sierra Leone $3 million to pay for 32 Cuban doctors and specialists to work in the West African country. This will help ease Sierra Leone's health workforce shortage as Minister Bangura collaborates with other countries to help bring more doctors and nurses to her country as quickly as possible. While the UK's Department for International Development and UN organizations remain the country's largest donors, developing countries are starting to give substantial sums to Sierra Leone. Nigeria has contributed 50 of their own doctors, nurses, and midwives while Kuwait has contributed $15 million to help upgrade three hospitals. Sudan is thinking about sending doctors. "This is truly South-South cooperation," Bangura said in an interview with MLI's Leading Global Health blog. "Developing countries are helping us out."

Country ownership saves lives: Ethiopia and Nepal lead the way

Last year, as the U.N. General Assembly was holding its annual meeting, member states pledged more than $40 billion for a maternal and child health initiative known as 'Every Woman Every Child.' A year later, donors at the 2011 annual meeting have exceeded the pledge and some of the biggest givers have been developing countries. There are three countries leading the way in investments to save the lives of women and children: Bangladesh and MLI countries Ethiopia and Nepal. Not only did these countries deliver on the financial commitments they had pledged, they also expanded their commitment to scale up community health workers as an effective approach for the provision of services for maternal and child health in their countries. Nepal recently initiated training a legion of 10,000 more skilled birth attendants, and Ethiopia has 30,000 health extension workers functioning in pairs in villages throughout the country to reach its population of 85 million people. The payoff is becoming evident as Ethiopian Minister of Health Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced last week the preliminary results of the 2011 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey. The infant mortality rate has decreased by 23% from 77 deaths per 1,000 births in 2005 to 59 deaths per 1,000 births and under-five mortality has decreased by 28% from 123 to 88 deaths per 1,000 births in 2009. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was pleased with the results. "In our time, it is wrong to allow women and children to die when we have the tools to save them," Ban said. "I am happy to say that one year later we are delivering."

The report noted that these accomplishments signal a change in development aid as more developing countries are taking greater ownership and responsibility over their spending priorities. Dr. Julio Frenk, chairman of the World Health Organization's Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, noted that these countries are "moving away from the paternalistic to a framework for shared accountability."

Leaders gather to stress importance of reproductive health, family planning

The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, a sister organization of MLI housed at Aspen Global Health and Development, gathered leaders from around the world to call on governments to provide universal access to reproductive health. At a September event held during the 66th U.N. General Assembly meeting, Council members reflected on the importance of reproductive health: one woman dies from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications every minute and almost all of those deaths are preventable. Dr. Fred Sai, former president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, explained the need for increased advocacy for family planning. "In the U.S., those on the right unfairly equate family planning with abortion. That has taken away the courage to speak on this from many of our African leaders. They think the subject is too politicized. So they don't talk about it." Mary Robinson, Chair of the Global Leaders Council, agreed, telling the audience at the event that family planning "is a fundamental issue for human rights and for development." To find out more about the Council and its work, check out Mary Robinson's recent op-ed and an MLI photo blog of Dominic Chavez's pictures from the event.

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