Why Protests Aren't What we Should Remember About The G8

Last weekend, the G8 leaders made a $5 billion commitment to maternal health. Combined with pledges from other donors, this will prevent 64,000 women from dying in childbirth and save 1.3 million young lives.
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Among news of protests and arrests at the G8 summit, something important was overlooked -- critical progress towards saving mothers' lives. During this meeting of the world's top leaders, mothers were finally at the top of the agenda. Almost every death resulting from childbirth is preventable yet politicians have historically shown little will to save these women's lives. Last weekend, the G8 leaders proved otherwise with a $5 billion commitment to maternal health. Not only is this great news for women across the globe, but essential for the health of their children and the future economic development of their communities.

The G8 commitment was not everything we had hoped for, but it was a critical first step. It, combined with pledges from other donors, will prevent 64,000 women from dying in childbirth and save the lives of 1.3 million young children. Yet, even with last week's pledge, millions of women and children still need help. We have the power to stamp out maternal mortality altogether, and we must do it.

Today, 350,000 women die each year -- nearly a woman every minute -- from survivable pregnancy and childbirth complications. Preventable maternal mortality remains one of the leading causes of death for women in the developing world. And for every woman who dies, 20 more will suffer terrible, life-altering complications.

Since 2000, we've made great strides toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but Goal #5, the promise to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015, remains the furthest behind. Without at least $30 billion to make proven solutions available to all women, only 23 countries are on track to meet the MDG 5 goal.

In addition to not reaching millions of women in need, the G8 pledge lacks specific details about how to fill the 3.5 million health worker gap. Midwives and doctors play a crucial role preventing unnecessary maternal deaths. They educate women about nutrition, health and family planning. And they step in when complications arise. We should work to guarantee that there is a midwife or health worker by every woman's side during childbirth.

In Ethiopia -- where I was born -- most women still give birth alone. Medical facilities are often too far away, overcrowded or under-equipped to help them. Across Africa, dedicated health workers like the doctors at the Durame Hospital in Ethiopia struggle to serve too many with too little. The nurses, midwives and doctors at these hospitals are superheroes -- they work tirelessly to save lives every day -- but they cannot do it alone. With funding from the G8 and G20 countries, we can support these hospitals and set up clinics to serve isolated communities. For many women and children, especially those with health complications, this would mean the difference between life and death.

The summit also failed to hold our leaders accountable for the $50 billion in additional development aid by 2010 they promised at Gleneagles. With worldwide budget crises, it is all too tempting to cut aid or renege on pledges. We must ensure the extra $5 billion pledged by the G8 does not come at the expense of other health and development programs. In times of economic crisis, we can't afford not to invest in solutions that save lives, such as health workers, health facilities and family planning. When a mother dies, it not only devastates her family, it reduces economic growth, destabilizes communities and jeopardizes hard won progress.

There is a way forward that will save lives and build a better future. Past promises must be kept and donors must be clear about their individual contributions to the initiative. Canada has already pledged $1.1 billion, and the U.S. $1.35 billion. Now, other countries must follow their example.

Bringing the future generation into the world should not cost you your life. But without real, sustained commitment from our leaders, our health care workers, and each of us, becoming a mother will still be the most dangerous day of many women's lives. So thank you to the G8 for this important first step. We still have a long way to go.

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