We Need to Pay More Attention to Reproductive Health

UN delegates and advocates gathered last month in New York to assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). With just five years remaining to meet the goals, and maternal health (Goal 5) the furthest off-track, the MDG Summit was an important opportunity for those of us in the reproductive health field to come together and fight for women and families.

Compared to the pre-summit hoopla, however, I am struck by the silence that has followed. A colleague in the UK asked me if she had missed all the press about the MDGs and sexual and reproductive health. No, she hadn't missed them because few groups did media relations and even fewer media outlets covered it. As a community, it seems we came, we saw, we didn't-quite-conquer ... and then we stopped talking about it.

Why is this?  Our community seems to have a hard time celebrating, especially if the victory is not complete and perfect in every respect. This is a mistake, as we have many successes to tout and much inspiration to share.

Let me be up front about my biases. These UN processes never yield perfect results, and any interpretation depends on complicated geopolitical dynamics and your own expectations. We often face the question: With no "teeth" or binding commitments, what's ever gained or lost at these meetings?

But the three main documents coming out of the summit, while not perfect, include important gains: the UN Secretary General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health; the outcome document from the General Assembly; and the summary of commitments from governments, NGOs, and the business community for women's and children's health.

The document as a whole speaks to the linkages between the MDGs in a way that we hadn't seen before. This is great news for a group like PAI, as we don't think our issue can go it alone when it comes to MDG 5, so we tirelessly promote Family Planning/Reproductive Health (FP/RH) as the cornerstone of good development. The Global Strategy specifically mentions safe abortion (safe abortion services (when abortion is not prohibited by law), which sadly is no small feat. If you've watched the UN long enough, you know the inclusion of sexual in paragraph 75 of the outcome document is no small achievement. Ultimately, we were hungry for a vision of MDGs that is implementable and does not backslide, and I would argue we got that.

We also got the International Alliance between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Australia Agency for International Development (AusAID), UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Gates to support progress in reproductive, maternal and newborn health. The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition launched the Hand to Hand Campaign with a goal of 100 million new users of modern contraception by 2015, thereby meeting the needs of 80 percent of women in low- and middle-income countries. And the UN Foundation announced a $400 million commitment to improve the health of women and children around the world as part of a "growing consensus that doing so is the best way to achieve all of the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015".

No doubt, we still have much work to implement these commitments in the best way possible. But let's celebrate that we are "on the agenda." We have never seen such attention from governments on maternal health writ large. Now, it is up to us to turn this into concrete reality.