Your Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia and Distinguished Honourary President of the Women’s Health Commission
I wish to thank, you your Excellency and through you, the Government and people of Liberia for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to me and for graciously agreeing to Patron this important Commission and host its official launch.
As Chairman of the 59th session of the Regional Committee for the African Region, and on behalf of my other 46 colleagues, I salute the launch of this Commission, which is a visible manifestation of the commitment of the Committee of Health Ministers to address Women’s Health in the Region, through their resolution adopted during their 58th Session. As you may recall, during the 58 Session of the Regional Committee Meeting held in Yaoundé Cameroon, a resolution was adopted calling on the Regional Director to establish a Commission charged with the responsibility of generating evidence for improved Women’s Health for social economic development in the region.
I congratulate the Regional Director for implementing this resolution. I wish to thank the distinguished members who have agreed to serve on the Commission. The WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has pointed out, correctly in my view, that inequities in health, between countries and within them, is one of the major challengers of our times. These inequities affect women disproportionately. This is not only unacceptable at the moral level, it also happens to be bad politics, and terrible economics.
Women’s access to health must be a critical component of Africa’s development agenda. In many Countries in Sub Saharan Africa, too many women still die while giving life. And most of the causes of these deaths are preventable with concerted political action and smart investments. To begin with, women must be part of, and indeed, lead the Women’s Health and Human rights agenda. I salute you, President Johnson, for giving voice, hope, and ambition to Africa’s women. In my own Country Rwanda, where Women are a majority in Parliament, Gender- based budgeting, especially in health, has been institutionalized. Women’s health, including reproductive health, is at the forefront of the health agenda. Many other countries on the continent have similar stories to tell of the transformative power of empowering women in the decision making process.
Second, we should not accept as inevitable that Africa will not be able to meet health-related MDGS, including, in particular, MDG 5. In Rwanda, our maternal mortality rate was 750/100,00 live births in 2007, down from over one thousand deaths /100,00 in the
previous years, but still unacceptably high. This meant in effect that over 2,870 women died every year of natal or perinatal related causes. In 2009, government raised this issue to the top of the National agenda. Maternal death audits were started at community and health facility level. Investments were made in maternities construction, ambulance purchases, human resources for health, and public awareness. This has reduced mortality by 13 times, to 224/ year, and if this trend continues, we shall be on track to meet the MDG 5 targets before 2015. I believe it is possible to meet all Health related MDGs. However, we need the resources necessary to do so, and the leadership required to invest them wisely, in order to get more out of every dollar invested, while promoting equity.
I look forward to the report and recommendations of the Commission launched today. The results of their systematic review of the evidence for Women’s health, as well as the major impediments for translating the evidence into concrete policy actions will be an important arsenal in the agenda for Women’s health. We welcome the increased attention Maternal and Child Health is beginning to receive at the International Level and welcome the sustained involvement of a broad array of actors, including, in particular, the White Ribbon Alliance, in this agenda. I believe that Family Planning and Reproductive rights must be part of this agenda, for sustained and sustainable development.
I trust that Member States will find the report produced by the Commission useful in their strong advocacy for improvement of Women’s Health in the Region.
As we look up to the lunching of the report in Malabo Equatorial Guinea some time this year. I would like to call on development partners to join us in the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
I thank you for your kind attention.