Closed Doors but Open Outcomes at the African Union Summit

ChikezieChikezie Anyanwu, Save the Children's Africa Advocacy Advisor

Kampala, Uganda

July 22, 2010

Today foreign ministers and health ministers from across Africa are meeting in Kampala. Here at Munyonyo, the luxury resort where the 15th African Union Summit is being held, there’s a breeze off Lake Victoria and questions are swirling in the air.

What will come out of this summit? Will leaders exercise the resolve to act forcefully on the summit’s maternal and child health theme? Will they find unity?

I’ve been catching up with some sympathetic African Union ambassadors and officials as they come out of closed door sessions to see what I can learn. Their initial report has yet to be released and, much more than in past summits, the ultimate declaration from heads of state is still very much up in the air.

The good news to report is that African civil society has found remarkable unity on what we’re asking our leaders to deliver. Representatives from Save the Children and more than 70 health and human rights organizations gathered in Kampala in the days leading up to the summit to discuss its theme: “Maternal and Child Health and Development in Africa.”  

We are community members, advocates and experts from diverse countries, backgrounds, and organizations. But I was struck by how strongly we agree on what African leaders need to do to save the lives of mothers, newborns and children in our countries. It’s worth noting we are also echoing nearly identical principles that experts from ministries of health across Africa developed at an African-Union-organized Continental Conference in Ethiopia this April. 

At the heart of the matter lies this reality: 4.5 million African children and 265,000 African mothers die every year because there’s a lack of political will to get the well-known, proven, cost-effective health solutions to those who need them.

So the biggest question we have for our leaders at this summit is: Will they do what it takes to save the lives of mothers and children in their countries?  

If they do, here’s what maternal and child advocates and health experts across Africa are saying will make all the difference:

  • PUT A PLAN IN PLACE.  Every African country must develop and implement an accelerated national plan for reducing maternal, newborn and child deaths.
  • MAKE SURE THE RESOURCES ARE THERE.  Every African country should meet and exceed its 2001 promise in Abuja, Nigeria to spend at least 15 percent of the national budget on health care.  Additionally, a meaningful portion of this budget must specifically dedicated to maternal, newborn, and child health.
  • ADDRESS HEALTH WORKER SHORTAGES.  Countries must recruit, train and retain more doctors, nurses, and midwives to help reduce the overall gap of 800,000 health workers in Africa by 2015.
  • ADDRESS THE COVERAGE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR.  Countries must ensure health care, including emergency obstetric care, is accessible for the poorest people and is free at the point of use for pregnant women and children under 5.

Stay tuned to see what happens!

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