Secretary-General, in Address to African Union Summit, Warns of Lagging Progress on Child, Maternal Health as 2015 Target Year Looms

26 July 2010

Secretary-General, in Address to African Union Summit, Warns of Lagging Progress on Child, Maternal Health as 2015 Target Year Looms

26 July 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, in Address to African Union Summit, Warns of Lagging Progress


on Child, Maternal Health as 2015 Target Year Looms


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the African Union Summit, as delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, in Kampala, on 25 July:

It is an honour to join you for this timely and important Summit.  I would like to express my appreciation to President Yoweri Museveni and the people of Uganda, for your warm hospitality.  I bring warm greetings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on whose behalf I speak.

I am especially pleased to be in Kampala so soon after the Secretary-General was here in May — and to follow his wide-ranging recent travels in Africa with a visit of my own.  As we prepare for the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, just 60 days from now in New York, we are determined to keep African peace and development at the very top of the international agenda.

I know you share my sorrow and profound dismay that in recent days Kampala has claimed our attention for another reason:  the ruthless terrorist attack against civilians who were justifiably celebrating South Africa’s historic and successful hosting of the World Cup.  I offer my sincere condolences to the Ugandan Government and to all the other countries that lost civilians in this horrendous violence.  I also wish a speedy recovery to the many people who were wounded.

The bombings have shown yet again that terrorism can happen where we may not expect it — and that no country is immune from the threat.  That means doing more to implement the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Strategy — with a global response rooted in the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The attacks also show that the Somali crisis has a direct impact on regional and global security.  We must strengthen our resolve to do more in our search for stability in that country.  That means, first and foremost, supporting the Transitional Federal Government, both in its reconciliation efforts and in its fight against extremism.

In that regard I would like to pay special tribute to the African Union Mission in Somalia, to Uganda and Burundi for contributing troops, to all the countries providing police, and to the organizations providing other support.

Sudan is also at a critical juncture.  The relatively peaceful conduct of elections in April was an important step in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).  As we look ahead to the January referendum on the self-determination of Southern Sudan and Abyei, we call on the CPA parties to take steps to ensure a peaceful and inclusive referendum process, and an incident-free post-referendum period.  We also call on the people of Sudan to refrain from violence in the period leading up to the voting.

We are pleased that the CPA parties have agreed on the framework and timelines for discussions on post-referendum arrangements, and that they have appointed the African Union High-level Panel as facilitator.  The United Nations will continue to work closely with both parties, as well as with the African Union and regional stakeholders, to support efforts to promote a timely and credible process.

We are very concerned by the deterioration of the security situation in Darfur.  We will continue to support the Joint Chief Mediator’s efforts to bring the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army — Abdul Wahid faction to the negotiating table, with a view to arriving at a comprehensive peace agreement.

Let me turn now to the theme of this Summit:  maternal and child health.  I commend your choice — and not just because I am a woman.  The evidence is clear.  Women and children are the engines that drive our families and our communities, our economies and our nations.  Investing in women pays.  It is one of the best investments we can make for this and future generations.

But I also welcome your focus on women because of the message you are sending.  Time and again, we have seen that progress demands leadership — leaders who devote themselves utterly to a challenge, who make it a daily touchstone, a constant subject of meetings, a prominent part of their budget outlays, a matter by which their ministers will be judged.

When leaders do this — on AIDS, on climate, on many other issues — when leaders are engaged and hands-on, good things happen.  So it is good and right that Africa’s leaders should make maternal and child health a Head-of-State concern.  That emphasis is particularly critical now.

Progress on maternal and child health in Africa has been lagging.  Achieving the relevant Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the agreed deadline of 2015 is going to be difficult, especially for those countries that also face malnutrition and the HIV-pandemic.  We must build on the work Africa has already done — the Maputo Plan for Sexual and Reproductive Health, the CARMMA Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa, and the Abuja Call for Accelerated Action towards Universal Access to HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria services.

We need to bring people together on what can be sensitive issues.  The African Union has also taken the very commendable step of promoting dialogue among religious leaders.  Just as we need to work across the lines that divide people, so do we need an intersectoral approach that recognizes the many links not only among the health-related MDGs, but also between all the Millennium Development Goals.  If mothers, infants and children are to be healthy they need to be adequately nourished.  One third of the 9 million deaths of children under the age of five every year are linked to under-nutrition of the children themselves and of their mothers.

We also need to address persistent inequities and discriminatory mindsets that block progress.  And we need to end violence against women and ensure their full participation in society.  Here, too, the evidence is telling:  in countries with similar levels of economic development, the higher the social status of women, the lower the maternal mortality rates.

My message to you today is that we can do this.  We can reach the targets we have set for ourselves.  With relatively simple and affordable measures, and by making our health systems stronger, we can prevent the tragic deaths of women and children.  We know that success comes when we focus on people, not illnesses; on health, not disease.  We know what must be done and what it will cost.  And we know that the necessary investments are modest in relation to the vast benefits that will follow.

Africa itself is helping to show the way.  Over the past five years in Rwanda, use of modern contraception has nearly tripled and skilled birth attendance has increased from less than 40 per cent to more than 50 per cent.  In Djibouti, women have organized a community health fund to support health-care visits during pregnancy, and life-saving care during childbirth.  Senegal has scaled up community programmes for the management of pneumonia in children.  Malawi is implementing integrated management of childhood illness at the community level.

Tanzania has greatly reduced child deaths through vaccinations, vitamin supplements and the use of insecticide-treated bed-nets and other preventive measures.  Uganda has earned worldwide recognition for reducing HIV infection rates — although there is now the challenge of resurgence.  Botswana, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe have reduced HIV prevalence in 15- to 24-year-olds by 25 per cent, largely by engaging young people themselves as agents of change.

There has also been good progress in improving food and nutrition security, including through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.  Africa’s leaders and the African Union have been integral parts of this picture.

This is just the beginning of what is possible with the right policies and international support.  Indeed, one of the goals of the MDG Summit in September is to showcase just these kinds of success stories in order to create partnerships that will allow us to scale up and do even more.

In September we will also launch the Secretary-General’s Joint Action Plan to accelerate progress on women’s and children’s health.  The plan calls for every part of the world’s health infrastructure to work together, towards one goal.  We have already tried the piecemeal approach — tackling one problem in isolation, mobilizing one group at a time.  It hasn’t worked.

The plan asks for new commitments from everyone — Governments, foundations, civil society, corporations, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.  In this area and across the development agenda, mutual accountability between Africa and its development partners can work.  We are also calling on all partners, despite the economic crisis, to maintain and, most importantly, to increase resources.

Many African States are showing that they have the capacity and national development plans to absorb such funding.  African Governments, for their part, need to meet their goal of allotting 15 per cent of national expenditures to health by mobilizing their own resources.  This is not the time to turn away from women and children.  Quite the contrary:  in delivering for women, we will deliver for all.

The United Nations and the African Union have built strong bonds for many years now.  The Secretary-General and I remain strongly committed to this partnership.  We will remain with you to strengthen African Union capacities for peacekeeping, peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

We will be together for human rights and justice, building on African support for the International Criminal Court and the successful Review Conference here in Kampala.  We are together against the menace of small arms, together for good governance and democracy.  We are committed to constant vigilance on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, including through the new United Nations “global pulse” system to monitor the impacts of global crises.  And we are together to unleash Africa’s boundless potential — its remarkable human and material wealth. 

It is time to think of Africa in the ranks of the biggest emerging economies in the world.  It is time for Africa’s people to have the tools they need to create jobs and generate income.

As our wonderful elder statesman, Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, has stated, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Let that spirit pervade this Summit.  Thank you for your commitment to the important work ahead.

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