25 September 2008


25 September 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


A global plan to save 10 million mothers and newborns by 2015 was launched today at a Headquarters press conference led by Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway, and the formation of a high-level task force on financing for health, for the training of global health workers was announced by Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stoltenberg is Chairman of the Global Campaign for the Health Millennium Development Goals, an alliance launched by global leaders last year to ensure that the three health-related Goals on the urgent need to improve maternal, newborn and child health and to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, were met by 2015.  Joining Mr. Stoltenberg today were Robert Zoellick, World Bank President; Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO); and Bill Gates, Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Explaining the reason for launching the Campaign in 2007, Mr. Stoltenberg said world leaders had realized that the health-related Goals would only be achieved by 2015 if the international community was mobilized with a radical change in the way money was raised and spent.  The goal had been set to reduce child mortality by two thirds, from more than 12 million in 1990 to 4 million in 2015.  At the present rate, however, the reduction would only be by one third.  The difference between one third and two thirds was literally millions of lives.

Maternal mortality was to have been reduced by three quarters by 2015, he continued, but while progress had been made in nearly all areas of the Development Goals, hardly any gains had been made towards improving maternal health.  Today, a mother still died every minute while giving birth.  That was more than half a million mothers each year dying for easily preventable causes, in what the Prime Minister termed an expression of the most “brutal neglect of women” and a lack of political will to make progress on women’s behalf.

On the positive side, the incidence of new AIDS infections had declined, he noted.  The incidence of malaria had also decreased, with 60 million bednets distributed through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria since 2004.  More vaccines were reaching more children than ever before.  In Africa, deaths from measles had declined by 90 per cent since 2000.  The United States had committed $48 billion to combating malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis, but “more needed to be done and more needed to be done better”.

It was not only a question of mobilizing more financial resources, but also of using the resources in a better way.  “The Campaign is doing both,” he said.

One year into the Campaign, the international community had made maternal health a priority, he said.  The United Nations and other global partners had united in the common goal of reducing mortality rates and improving health among the poorest of the poor.  Safety was the most important factor in saving the lives of mothers and newborns.  More women needed to deliver in clinics, but poor women needed support to travel to get care.  In India, such support had led to a tenfold increase in deliveries in clinics, from half a million to 5 million in only three years.  In Rwanda, since local communities received monies based on the number of people who accessed health services, child mortality had gone down by 30 per cent.

He said that those examples showed that success was achievable with results-based financing for health service delivery, he said.  It was a matter of improving the way money was spent and used.  It had begun with vaccination and it was now working with maternal health care.  That proved that the Millennium Development Goals were achievable.  In the area of maternal health, additional funding should be increased by $7 million by 2015 to save more than 3 million mothers and more than 7 million children, in the next seven years.

Announcing the creation of the new high-level taskforce on innovative financing for health, United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Brown said it was being launched to ensure that funding was available as soon as possible to train and employ health workers.  He and World Bank President, Mr. Zoellick, would chair the group, which would report to the Italian Group of Eight summit in 2009 with recommendations for innovative financing to improve health systems and pay health workers to save 10 million lives by 2015, and ensure that 400 million women were able to give birth safely.

Traditional funding through aid could make an enormous contribution, but to deliver long-term health-care assistance required a new, long-term approach, he said.  The successful international finance mechanism for immunization had provided for the immunization of a half billion people over a 10-year period and had saved more than 10 million lives.  The same principles would be applied to general health care and building the capacity of health-care systems. 

Continuing, he said that funding for global health had more than doubled since 2000 and had saved millions of lives, but rates on maternal mortality had remained largely unchanged for 20 years.  Half a million women died annually in childbirth from inadequate care.  Progress with programmes such as vaccinations showed the situation required more than just money.  Developing countries needed assistance to build health-care systems and to ensure the recruitment and training of the more than 4 million health-care workers whose skills were needed worldwide.

According to the Global Campaign, it would take $30 billion by 2015 to save the lives of 3 million more mothers and 7 million more children, he said.  An international health partnership launched last year in the United Kingdom had supported the development of international health plans.  The United Kingdom would make available an estimated £450 million to back health plans for eight countries -- Ethiopia, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia, Burundi, Cambodia and Nepal.  The partnership had been effective.  As examples, nearly 25,000 community health workers had been trained in Ethiopia and were delivering family planning, immunization and health education to their communities.  The number of skilled birth attendants in Mozambique would be increased by two thirds by 2015.

Ms. Chan said the number of maternal deaths would go down only when more women had access to emergency obstetric care.  Maternal deaths were largely caused by avoidable “health system issues”, such as a lack of financial protection or of health facilities, transportation or available medicines and supplies.  Failure to invest in health systems and training health workers, as well as the lack of financing in the area of health services in the past two decades, had contributed to the lack of progress in maternal health.  Health projects must be scaled up with additional resources to finance robust, validated, properly-cost and results-based national health plans.

Stressing that the Development Goals were interconnected, Mr. Zoellick said that, for example, that malnutrition was often a forgotten Goal even though it was linked to everything else, impacting on health, education and poverty.  Much could be learned from the developing world in terms of innovative financing.  India had been able to increase the number and quality of institutional deliveries through performance contracts with private providers, and Rwanda had used results-based financing to significantly increase institutional deliveries.

Stressing results and accountability, he said that the World Bank was providing health funding to 78 of the poorest countries through nationally owned programmes.  Those programmes had been developed through a vertical funding mechanism targeted at specific diseases.  The same principle could be applied to connect the pieces that had already been put into place for a more general improvement of health delivery systems in countries.  Increasing the number of health-care expert teams would demonstrate the benefits of integrated health care.

Welcoming the new taskforce on innovative financing, Mr. Gates said the progress towards reducing malaria deaths had been dramatic.  His Foundation would make a major new commitment to the scientific work to accelerate that progress.  Health was the gateway to progress; as health improved in a society, the birth rate actually went down since families did not need to have as many children to ensure that at least a few lived into adulthood.

Progress in health led to all the other great things that put a society on track, he said.  The most effective dollars were spent on funding and research for new vaccines.  Health systems did not have to start with expensive health complexes.  Rather, they could start with trained community health-care workers, for which the focus on innovative financing mechanisms was key.

Responding to a question, Mr. Brown said many advances in the richest countries were not passed on to the poorest countries.  The basics that mothers took for granted in rich countries were not available to mothers in the poorest ones.  In Sierra Leone, for example, only one in eight mothers survived childbirth.  Yet, death during childbirth was completely preventable.

To a question on success in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, he said that countries that had not committed before had now committed an extra $8 billion towards development projects, and further pledges of development funds would be announced at Doha.  The food and oil crises were raising awareness of the “poverty emergency”. 

As for how the United States financial crisis would impact achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Zoellick said he was concerned that the ripple effects would hit the poor countries most seriously.  Bad things, however, could also create opportunities.  The financial crisis required a focus on “financial rescue” to ensure financial growth, but at the same time, the “human rescue” must not be forgotten.  As an example, €1 billion would be made available for a seed programme, as a result of the food crisis.  The United States had pledged $5 billion in food aid in response to the food crisis, he added.

Mr. Gates stressed the need to address health and economic challenges.  While the generosity of nations would be affected by the global financial crisis, economic progress in the long term was what mattered.  Mr. Brown added that the food shortages would be addressed, in part, by including Africa in the solution.  Aid must not slow even as conditions needed to be improved for food exports and continued oil flows.  The truth was coming home to people the world over that the society of today was a global one that needed cooperation to manage.

Mr. Gates agreed, saying he was optimistic about the global economy.  Governments now knew there were problems that could not be solved at the national level.  There was now a “global new deal”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.