25 September 2013
Deputy Secretary-General
DSG/SM/701
DEV/3036

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, at Event on Maternal, Child Health,

 

Highlights Strides Made, Stressing Need to Finish Job

 


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to an event on Maternal and Child Health, in New York on 25 September:


I am honoured to be here with so many champions of women’s and children’s health.  As you all know, the Secretary-General has been leading our global campaign for “Every w oman, every child”.  Just Monday he said that investing in progress on women’s and children’s health yields incalculable returns in terms of lives saved.  I know we all in this room agree with this — and most of you are doing something about it.


Around the world, community health workers, activists, doctors, nurses, mid-wives, as well as policymakers, and development and humanitarian practitioners are working hard and making progress every day for a life of dignity for millions and millions of women and children.  Thanks to their dedicated efforts — and thanks to all of you — maternal deaths have been cut by nearly half since 1990.  And millions of children have been saved.  I am especially encouraged that child mortality rates are falling fast not least in sub-Saharan Africa — a region that suffered child death too much for too long.


Today we celebrate these accomplishments.  But we must also focus and mobilize to finish the job.  At the rate we are going, only a few countries will reach the Millennium Development Goals on women’s and children’s health — not to speak about sanitation which has a substantial effect on the prospects for health and survival.


We may feel overwhelmed at times by the sheer numbers involved in rising to this challenge.  So let me tell you the story of just one woman.  Her name is Samira.  She lives in Syria.  She always wanted to be a midwife.  Samira’s sister-in-law, Mahdia, lives near Homs.  As you know that area is a battle-zone.  Many people have fled.  But Mahdia was pregnant — so she stayed.


The day she went into labour, Mahdia could not leave the house for help.  The fighting was raging outside.  She was in terrible pain.  On top of that she had to cope with terrifying fear.  Samira was there.  She had a kit she had received from UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] when she was training as a midwife.  The kit came with some basic tools.  A razor to cut the umbilical cord.  A plastic sheet.  A simple bar of soap.  These supplies are not complicated or expensive, but they save lives.


That night, surrounded by fighting and death, there was a birth.  There was life.  Samira said it was “a safe and easy delivery”.  She is a heroine, but she is not alone.  This world is full of individuals like Samira.  Let us pledge to give them the tools and the means they need to save lives.  Let us muster all of our political will for the health of women and children.


“Every w oman, every child” brings together a broad-based partnership.  I thank Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper, President [Jakaya Mrisho]Kikwete, President Goodluck Jonathan, Prime Minister [Jens] Stoltenberg and all the other leaders here and around the world who have backed this initiative with determined action, passion and compassion.


We know that raising awareness is key.  Communities can make the difference.  This is what we are seeing in places like Zambia, which airs national television spots on protecting newborns from HIV.  In Zambia, groups distribute family planning commodities.  Across the region and around the world, people are taking action to promote health.


The independent Expert Review Group, established by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, has just launched a report that rightly calls for better quality of care.  We need to strengthen health services.  We need to improve education.  We need to make sure girls and women have the same opportunities as men and boys.  And we need to give everyone access to clean water and adequate sanitation.


We can vaccinate against polio and provide nutritional advice, but if children do not have clean water and proper sanitation, they will continue to suffer and often die from diarrhoea and polio.  That is why I personally devote so much of my time and energy to water and sanitation for all.  I ask you to respond to my call for action on sanitation, launched on behalf of the Secretary-General in March this year.


When I see you here today, I see champions for women’s and children’s health.  I see friends and colleagues who have dedicated their lives to saving others.  I see people who are joined by countless others around the world who understand that this vision is absolutely crucial to our future.  Let us go forward with hope and resolve to achieve a life of dignity for all.


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For information media • not an official record