General Articles

UN Secretary-General Launches New Initiative on Reproductive, Maternal, and Newborn Health

The United Nations (UN) has launched a new initiative on reproductive, maternal, and newborn health. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the new Joint Action Plan at a press conference on April 14, 2010. The secretary-general was joined by international endorsers of the initiative that include “President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, Vice-President Boediono of Indonesia, Canadian Minister for International Cooperation Beverley J. Oda, and Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).”1The new initiative is intended to increase efforts to reach 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number five, improve maternal health, by encouraging international actors to present new initiatives to decrease maternal mortality and “adopt an accountability framework.”2
Progress toward achieving the fifth MDG, specifically to reduce the amount of maternal deaths by 75%, has lagged behind the other seven goals. Until the release of a Lancet study on global maternal deaths released on April 12, 2010, there has not been what is considered to have been noticeable progress on achieving the goal. In fact, in May 2009 the WHO published a study claiming that “mothers and newborns are no more likely to survive now than 20 years ago.”3 However, the Lancet study finds that the rate of global maternal deaths has decreased by 35% between 1980 and 2008, from an estimated 500,000 deaths to 342,900 deaths. Although this study claims that the overall rate of global maternal deaths has decreased, there still exist countries in which the maternal death rate has stayed the same or increased.4
At the April 14 press conference, Secretary-General Ban stressed the importance of improving women’s heath and reaffirmed the United Nation’s commitment to reaching the 2015 MDGs. He remarked, “A health system that delivers for mothers will deliver for the whole community. But first we must deliver.”5

Secretary-general Ban and the other panel members at the press conference stressed that the health of women affects the health and well-being of their entire communities. Two main actions that need to be taken are to widen access to emergency care and increase the supply of trained midwives. Health centers that offer a range of health services allow women to take care of all of their needs at the same time and place rather than having to travel to multiple locations.

The international endorsers present at the press conference offered praise and support for the new initiative. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, went into detail on the characteristics of states that are progressing in reaching the MDGs. These characteristics include having a system that stresses collaboration and coordination and tracks accountability. The Canadian minister for international cooperation, Beverley J. Oda, stressed how Canada is making the issue of maternal health a high priority for the upcoming G8 summit in Canada. However the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, contradicted Oda’s statement when he announced that Canada would not be discussing abortion or family planning at the upcoming summit. In regard to the issue, Harper announced to Canada’s House of Commons, “We are not closing the door to any option, and that includes contraception, but we do not want a debate, here or elsewhere, on abortion.”6
There has been an ongoing debate in Canada on whether or not to discuss abortion, contraception, and family planning at the G8 summit. United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other international figures have expressed disappointment in Canada’s recent decision to exclude talking about family planning and abortion. Clinton remarked at a press conference with other G8 ministers that “if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”7
Reaching the MDGs will require additional resources and funding. The advocacy group Countdown to 2015 has estimated that an additional 20 billion dollars per year are needed to reach the reproductive, maternal, and newborn health MDGs.8 The UN secretary-general has said that he would not know the specific amount of funding needed until September, when all national action plans have been developed. 
“Although the new Lancet study can provide the UN and international community with some optimism that its efforts have not gone to waste, it should serve as a reminder of the large amount of work ahead to reach the 2015 MDGs,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “Hopefully, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s reproductive, maternal, and newborn health initiative will serve to remobilize efforts. The amount of unnecessary deaths of women and children that continues to exist in the 21st century is unacceptable,” adds Heitel Yakush, noting, “This new initiative will hopefully be a positive step in addressing this grievance if countries are able to create new and effective plans and provide more funding for their programs.”

1 “Press Conference on New Initiative on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Health,” United Nations Department of Public Information, 14 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010,

2 Ibid.

3 “Maternal Deaths Down in Poor Countries,” Reuters News Service, 12 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010, <>.

4 “Global Maternal Deaths Decreased by More Than 35% between 1980 and 2008, Study Finds,” Medical News Today, 14 April 2010, accessed 15 April 2010, <>.

5 “Press Conference on New Initiative on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Health,” United Nations Department of Public Information, 14 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010,

6“Contraception a Part of Maternal-Health Plan, Harper Says,” Globe and Mail, 18 March 2010, accessed 30 April 2010, <>.

7 “G8 in Canada,” Freedom’s Challenge, 30 March 2010, accessed 30 April 2010,

8 “New Strategy, More Funding Needed to Meet Maternal, Child Health MDGs, Report Says,” Medical News Today, 15 April 2010, accessed 16 April 2010, <>.