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ADDIS ABABA, 27 October 2009 — Ending the needless death and suffering of women during pregnancy is one of the greatest moral, human rights and development challenges of our time, agreed more than 150 delegates that met here yesterday. Facing that challenge requires concrete action to protect and fulfill everyone’s right to sexual and reproductive health, they declared.

The High-Level Meeting on Maternal Health – Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5) was held to push maternal health higher on the political agenda and increase political and financial commitment for improving maternal health at the country level. The one-day event was organized by Bert Koenders, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and was hosted by the Government of Ethiopia.

Ministers, parliamentarians, and representatives of regional intergovernmental organizations, youth groups, private sector and civil society from around the world discussed policy challenges to achieve MDG5—which is still lagging behind—and ways to mobilize political and financial commitments.
They also shared experiences and lessons that would help attain the goal.

The meeting concluded with the adoption of the Addis Call to Urgent Action for Maternal Health that recommended specific steps to reach the goal by 2015, particularly the following key measures:

  • Prioritize family planning, one of the most cost-effective development investments. “If we ensure access to modern contraception,” affirmed the delegates, “we can prevent up to 40 per cent of maternal deaths.”
  • Make adolescents a priority by investing in their health, education and livelihoods; and
  • Strengthen health systems with sexual and reproductive health as a priority. If a health system can deliver for women, it is a strong health system that benefits all, according the participants.

Describing maternal death as “the greatest crisis of our time,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Health of Ethiopia, highlighted, at the meeting’s opening, the need to focus on three priorities: keeping a strong momentum on MDG5; linking maternal health and the strengthening of national health systems; and partnership between developing and developed countries.

The Dutch Minister, Mr. Koenders, said: “Today is important for women all over the world, and their children and partners. In fact, it is important for everyone, because MDG5 affects us all…MDG5 is the mother of all MDGs – an investment in it promotes the attainment of all other MDGs.”

“Maternal health is a human right,” added Mr. Koenders. “To reduce health inequality, we need to listen to women. In many countries women have an unmet need for family planning.”

“We are here for one reason and one reason only: to accelerate action to improve maternal health and end the needless death and suffering of women,” said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid in her keynote speech. “To improve maternal health, we need to scale up and deliver a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health information, supplies and services.”

We know what it would cost to meet our goals, added Ms. Obaid, “and, sadly, we know the cost of too little action. It would cost the world $23 billion per year to stop women from having unintended pregnancies and dying in childbirth, and to save millions of newborns.”

Among other recommended actions, participants called on policy makers to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, with the involvement of young people, and to break the silence and mobilize efforts to promote gender equality. They also called on development partners and donors to fulfill the agreed target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for official development assistance, and to place maternal health and MDG5 at the centre of global health initiatives.

Mr. Koenders then presented the meeting’s outcome at the opening of the Fourth International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which is taking place today and tomorrow at the same venue, the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa.