More than 1,000 researchers, practitioners, policymakers and advocates from 75 countries gathered in Mexico City in October for the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference.
The meeting marked the first opportunity for the maternal and newborn health communities to meet and strategise on ways to achieve the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, which were launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Of great emphasis were the significant gains that the global public health community has made to date. Goal 3 states that we must, “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”, and the first two targets of this goal are to reduce maternal mortality and end preventable deaths of newborns and children under age five.
If we are to narrow equity gaps and improve quality, we must investigate what is happening among populations who have historically been socially or geographical excluded. As such, the conference in Mexico City chose three timely and important themes: quality, equity and integration.
There is an emerging consensus among researchers, programme managers and policy makers that universal health coverage (UHC) is an essential means of achieving SDGs and may represent a valuable goal or target itself. According to the World Health Organisation, UHC is the goal that all people can obtain the prevention and treatment health services they need without suffering financial destitution when paying for them.
As we forge ahead to improve maternal and newborn care, we need to ask ourselves: Do we know what works? Why it works? And how it works in particular contexts? Equally as important, do our approaches improve equity and enhance the provision of high quality care?
Women, children, and others most visibly affected by health care inequalities stand to gain the most from well-designed UHC programmes. The first innovation that is of great primacy is breaking financial hardship. Currently in Kenya, there is a free skilled delivery package - an intervention that is largely considered a success in different parts of the country in improving skilled birth delivery and there is still opportunity to do more.
The second innovation pertains using alternative cadre of community health volunteers like community mobilisation, support groups, community based counseling for women and young adolescent girls.
The third innovation is the role of technology. Many of us are under the misconception that the technology needed for reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health service delivery has to be complex or requires a lot of investment.
Finally, family planning to maternal health is what immunisation is to child health. This is an orphaned area for various reasons-cultural and traditional practices, lower socioeconomic and educational status, logistics and politics.