Abuja, Nigeria

24 May 2011

Secretary-General's remarks at breakfast meeting with the Governors' Forum (as prepared for delivery)


It is wonderful to be here in Nigeria - my first visit to this country as Secretary-General.

As you know, I am here to learn more about your challenges and achievements in the field of public health - and specifically on women's and children's health.

But first, let me begin with a few words on the recent elections.

This was an important test for the country and the continent.

This year Africa will see more than 20 presidential elections.

Properly managed, transparent elections can ease tensions and build accountable institutions. But they also entail risks.

We saw in Cote d'Ivoire what can happen when the will of the people is ignored.

Thanks in large part to Nigeria's strong leadership, your West African neighbour now has a freely and legitimately elected president.

Here in Nigeria, domestic and international observers agree that your recent elections marked a significant step forward.

I congratulate you.

However, I am aware that some observers and some political parties have raised concerns.

I hope all electoral disputes will be addressed in a peaceful and transparent manner.

I am deeply disturbed by the level of violence, particularly in the northern states, and I am concerned by the periodic ethnic and religious violence that affects parts of the country.

The underlying reasons are many and complex. I know that all of you are on the front lines as you try to address these challenges.

But let me highlight one factor that is common across many developing countries: namely the high numbers of unemployed and often under-educated youth.

This, I believe, is a major contributor to unrest and instability, and needs to be addressed to support your Nigeria's development and security.

Let me now turn to the broader issue of development.

In many countries, in many areas, we are seeing great headway on the Millennium Development Goals.

The glaring gap is on MDGs four and five - women's health and children's health.

Yet, it is precisely in these areas that we can make a huge impact across the goals - for individuals and communities - for nations and economies.

Health systems that work for women and children are health systems that work for all.

This is why I launched a global Every Woman Every Child initiative.

Every Woman Every Child is designed to support the Global Strategy on Women's and Children's Health - agreed last year by all the world's leader.

But this is more than a piece of paper. More than $40 billion dollars in commitments have been made by governments, international organizations, philanthropic institutions, civil society and the private sector.

This is new momentum, and a new way of doing business.

You here in this room will be at the heart of success here in Nigeria.

You have one of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the world.

But it does not need to be so.

Your commitment to fully funding your health programmes by allocating increased resources is essential.

As State Governors, you are central to supporting and implementing the Government's health plans.

I assure you today of the continued support of United Nations. We have a strong interest in your success.

You will be joined new commitment, new partners, new money, and new momentum in this heroic endeavour.

You are already integrating services for maternal, newborn and child health, with programmes on HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and nutrition.

You are strengthening Health Management Information Systems, and increasing the number of core service providers, including community health workers and midwives.

These efforts are bearing fruit.

Yesterday, I visited a Primary Health Care Centre at Dutse Makarasa.

I saw how more and better trained midwives are helping more women give birth safely to healthy children.

We need to translate such successes across all Nigeria's states.

As State leaders, you can make this happen.

The ground-breaking Community Health Insurance Scheme of the Kwara State Government is another hopeful example.

This unique initiative offers comprehensive healthcare to all people, year-round, at a modest cost.

It is accomplished through cooperation among the Government, traditional rulers, the private sector and donors.

This is exactly the kind of innovative partnership that we should replicate - here in Nigeria and beyond.

I thank Dr. Bukola Saraki for his exemplary efforts and visionary leadership.

I welcome your commitment to the 2009 Partnership Declaration on Health –Nigeria's own “MDG Count Down Strategy” - and your robust result-oriented State Health Plans.

These are all encouraging steps. But much more can be done.

In particular I urge you to remedy the gap between the provision of health infrastructure and the quality of service.

Address inequities in accessing care, and ensure that funding for women's and children's health is available and smoothly disbursed throughout the country.

Make commodities, drugs and supplies more readily available.

I urge you, too, to work towards equal participation of women and men in public life. This will go a long way to improving women's and children's health.

I also encourage you to expand the successful Midwives Service Scheme, and deploy Community Health Extension Workers to rural areas.

This would enable us to reach all women, even in the most remote communities, so all women and children in Nigeria get equal and adequate care.

Let me close by making an appeal on polio.

You have made tremendous progress the past year.

Polio cases are down by 95 per cent.

But, if we let our guard down for a minute, polio can spring back.

We cannot let this happen. Let us eradicate this crippling disease once and for all.

Northern Nigeria is one of the last reservoirs of the virus.

Traditional and religious leaders, headed by the Sultan of Sokoto and his Emirs, have provided exemplary support for the eradication programme.

But we need your political support for final success.

I urge you to make polio eradication a priority.

You control local government budgets.

You can ensure that local authorities provide the material, financial and technical support the vaccination programme needs.

Furthermore, eradicating polio provides an entry point to strengthening primary health care across the board.


As elected representatives of the people, you have the health of the children and the women of your states in your hands.

I have outlined some areas where you can achieve success –supporting polio vaccination - improving primary health care - providing health safety nets.

There are more. Half of Nigerians lack access to safe drinking water. Malnutrition is extensive among children under five.

Providing clean water - food and nutrition security - and adequate sanitation will make a vast contribution to women's and children's health.

You have many challenges in reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

But I know - you know - that no obstacle is too great if the will is there.

I assure you, the United Nations will continue to support your efforts to achieve the MDGs and build a stable and prosperous Nigeria.

I thank you for your leadership, and for your kind invitation today.