AU Summit: Less rhetoric and more action needed to save women and childrens' lives

As African leaders return home from the AU Summit, they must now take immediate action to implement the maternal and child health promises they have made here, a coalition of civil society organizations said today.

The coalition said the summit's final declaration included some positive steps that if fully implemented could save the lives of millions of African women and children. Yet it will be meaningless if it is not now acted upon.

The coalition includes Fair Play for Africa, FEMNET, Oxfam, Save the Children and the White Ribbon Alliance.

In particular the organizations welcomed decisions to invest more in community health workers and re-commit to meeting the so-called Abuja target of investing 15% of national budgets in healthcare. However, the Abuja promise was made in 2001 and this year only three countries – namely Rwanda, Tanzania, and Liberia – have met the target, according to recent World Health Organization statistics.

The coalition said that words alone are meaningless unless they are backed up by concrete and consistent actions, and leaders must ensure dedicated funding for maternal, newborn and child health over the next five years.

Nora Matovu-Winyi, Executive Director of FEMNET, said: "African leaders must now come up with concrete plans and timetables to show how they are going to re-orientate their policies, programmes and budgets to eradicate maternal and child deaths in Africa. No woman should die while giving birth."

During the three days of the Heads of State Summit, an estimated 37,000 children and over 2,000 women died across Africa, mostly from illnesses that with better policies and investment could be prevented and treated.

Some leaders at the summit expressed concern that they do not have the money to prioritise healthcare.

"The irony of the lack-of-resources excuse is that Malawi, a very poor country, has dramatically cut child deaths in recent years, exactly because they did make that goal a priority," said Chikezie Anyanwu, Save the Children's Africa Advocacy Advisor.

Malawi is now one of only 10 African nations on track to meet Millennium Development Goal 4 – reducing child deaths by two thirds of 1990 levels by 2015. Progress on reaching Millennium Development Goal 5 – reducing maternal deaths by three fourths, has been even slower in Africa.

"Until recently Malawi was also meeting the Abuja pledge of 15% expenditure for health. We hope that the news that they are "on track" doesn't give the impression that they can now step back from this pledge," continued Anyanwu.

African leaders in Kampala pledged to reduce out-of-pocket health care expenses, through strategies including making obstetric care and care for children under five free. They must follow through on this and other promises that could save millions of lives, the coalition said.

Desire Assogbavi, Head of Oxfam's AU Liaison office in Addis Ababa, said: "While this declaration is a positive step, most of it has been promised before but has never been delivered. Only 10% of AU decisions are effectively implemented. There is a need to immediately put in place comprehensive tracking and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the decisions are fully implemented at national level. African people are tired of rhetoric – now they need to see real change in their daily lives".

African governments must accelerate the delivery of a comprehensive package of the development goals. A key step would be to publicly announce timetables and timeframes leading up to 2015, the target date for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

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