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Monday, April 30, 2012

Uganda wins funds to close immunisation gap


Press Release

Science Café educates Ugandan women in local languages

In Uganda, where a large part of the population is illiterate, a project undertaken by the charity organization Science Café Uganda welcomes participants to community meetings at which scientists explain in the nation’s local languages (of which there are 56) how the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine prevents deadly cervical cancer.

Says Christine Munduru, a public health worker and volunteer leader of the project, entitled “Taking Science to Rural Ugandan Communities”: “The incidence of cervical cancer is growing in women of reproductive age. More than 7 million Ugandan women of reproductive age are at risk of developing the disease; every year about 3,600 women are diagnosed and almost 2,500 die from it.”
“There are lots of myths about the HPV vaccine among those aware of it; most people don’t know it exists. People don’t have information and that poses serious danger to women’s health.”

“People want to know,” she adds. “Everywhere where we go, people are so interested in having these discussions.” The convenient timing, non-academic location and relaxed informality of the Science Café-organized meetings with high calibre scientists helps empower Ugandan women, she says.
“The rural poor in general but, due to their socio-economic position, women and girls in particular aren’t reached by information via the popular media.”“Men are the decision-makers in Uganda and many are uninformed on women’s health issues. We have therefore worked hard to include men in these discussions, both separately from the women and together.”

Armed with creative ideas and modest Canadian funding, a committed, courageous group of vaccine advocates will also venture into one of Pakistan’s most difficult regions to fight deadly diseases and ignorance of vaccines and their benefits.

“The Awakening project” will establish village health committees, school drama clubs and radio programs among other novel means to promote child vaccination in Pakistan’s mountainous Swat district, once one of the most dangerous parts of a highly conflicted part of the world — an area where one child in 10 dies before age five due largely to vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, measles or hepatitis.

“The infamous Swat district was controlled by the Taliban until 2009 and health workers seldom dare to visit,” says Erfaan Hussein Babak, director of The Awakening project. “The population has suffered greatly over the years and the child mortality rate from preventable diseases is distressingly high.”

The project is one of five awarded US$10,000 to educate developing country populations in need about disease prevention through vaccines and immunization. The five were chosen through a peer reviewed competition from among 60 applications to the Southern Vaccine Advocacy Challenge (SVAC), created and supported by the Ethical, Social and Cultural Programme of the Canadian-based Sandra Rotman Centre.

Remarkably, it is the first time the challenge approach — involving the invitation of innovative ideas from a community of stakeholders to address a problem — has been used as a tactic to promote developing world vaccine education and use. The funding announcements coincide with the start of the World Health Organization’s World Immunization Week 2012 (April 21-28).

The five projects funded — in Pakistan, Uganda, Egypt, El Salvador and South Africa — were the most innovative and practical among some 60 submitted for consideration from 25 low and middle income countries.

The rough geography of Pakistan’s Swat area adds challenge to an unpredictable political and social situation, says Mr. Babak, increasing the isolation of many communities.

Project participants will visit schools and facilitate drama clubs for children to inform them about vaccines, broadcast health workers on daily radio programs discussing vaccines and immunizations, and organize 240 awareness sessions in the district.

The project will also target ill-founded beliefs.

“Some local religious leaders speak against immunization programs, making it almost impossible for some members of the population to have access to vaccines or even information about immunization,” says Mr. Babak.

“We will talk to people on the basis of passages in the Holy Quran, in which it is clearly stated that He has provided the medicines for every illness. We can quote verses related to health issues, as well as the rights of children and parents.Many religious leaders in the district are supportive and through them we hope to reach others” says Mr. Babak. Says Peter A. Singer, MD, Director of the Sandra Rotman Centre at the University Health Network and University of Toronto: “The Awakening project in Pakistan reminds me of the first bird of spring. It offers the hope of renewal in a region where normal life has long been absent.”

Dr. Singer notes immunization levels have steadily increased globally over the last 30 years with 80% of the world population being vaccinated by 2006, preventing an estimated 2.5 million child deaths annually. And each year, 1.7 million children die from a vaccine-preventable disease — one life every 20 seconds.

Vaccine-preventable diseases remain prevalent in the developing world and cause or contribute to 20 to 35% of all deaths of children under five, and stunt the mental and physical development of countless more says Dr. Singer: “The paradox is that, for the first time in history, we have or will soon have vaccines to control many deadly diseases and improve the quality of life of every child on the planet. But the supply of vaccines is not enough. Success at preventing disease with vaccines in developing countries also depends on building demand. And for that we need “voices from the global South” to mobilize creative energies and new voices at grass-root levels. These initial SVAC projects represent an important and innovative step in that direction, filling a significant gap.”

Dr. Singer co-chaired the public and political support working group of the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration with Dr. Nicole Bates, Senior Program Officer, Global Policy & Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our vision for the Decade of Vaccines is to extend the full benefit of immunization to all people,” says Dr. Bates. “Innovative approaches to generating public awareness and demand are a critical component to realizing this vision.”

Contests and coloring books help promote pneumonia vaccines in Egypt

In Egypt, a group of young doctors along with 400 volunteers nationwide aim to educate 5,000 parents at hospitals and nurseries about preventing child pneumonia by using a simple competition involving child coloring books as the prize.

“We wanted to spread health information in an innovative way, especially around pneumonia, which contributes to about 15% of the total number of deaths of Egypt’s children under five years old — 42,000 children on average every year,” says Dr. Mohamed Zaazoue, project director of the “Protect Your Children” project.

“We came up with the idea not to call this a health awareness campaign but a competition in which the prize is a coloring book for the parent’s child.”

“We offer parents a brief presentation about the disease and its prevention, a very simple multiple choice quiz, with the prize of crayons and coloring books about pneumonia for their children. The truth is, everybody wins,” says Dr. Zaazoue.

Dr Zaazoue adds “Thanks to a donation from US drug giant Pfizer, the project is also able to offer, through university hospitals’ pediatric out-patient clinics, 14,000 free doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to high-risk children.”

El Salvador: Building grass-roots pressure to promote HPV vaccination


In El Salvador, a group working to prevent cervical cancer, a major health issue for Salvadorian women, is targeting female parliamentarians with the program “With Love We Learn,” mobilizing civil society to educate and lobby so that, by July, the national government will commit to including the HPV vaccine in the National Plan of Immunization says Dr. Lisseth Ruiz de Campos of Asaprecan (El Salvador Cancer Prevention Association): “Our health system is unprepared to address cervical cancer. Cancer is treated in general hospitals and only 20% of the population of El Salvador has access to radiotherapy.”

“The vaccination of 80% of 13 years old girls would reduce the rate of cervical cancer by 70%,’ according to Dr. Ruiz de Campos. “But if the population doesn’t know what causes the cancer and how to prevent cancer, there is no social pressure to deploy the resources needed.”

Fighting the problems of HIV ignorance, stigma in South Africa

South Africa’s “Future Fighters” project of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation involves about 30 youths, mostly girls 15 to 18 years old, in a peer-to-peer education model in areas where roughly one quarter of the population is HIV positive, including roughly one in 10 teenagers.

Through poems and skits performed at 10 schools, the project aims to change perceptions of HIV, educating students on relevant vaccines and offering role models for fighting stigma — a huge challenge in the community. Many young HIV victims fail to seek out appropriate medicines and treatment out of fear of social stigmatization.

The Future Fighters will not only present information through drama, dance and poetry but encourage and mentor students at the schools to create their own groups of HIV education ambassadors.

“Youth are either forgotten about or taught about vaccines using pamphlets and boring Power Point presentations. What they respond to are fun, engaging activities like skits, poems and song,” says Lavinia Brown of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.

* * * * *

“All of these projects and organizations are finding new ways to spread basic messages about health and vaccination and immunization that will have a profound impact on their societies, either by reducing child mortality or improving their quality of life. And they do it in an amazingly effective way, by building the desire and demand for vaccines on the part of the people who need them most,” says Dr. Singer.


About the Sandra Rotman Centre

The Sandra Rotman Centre, based at University Health Network and University of Toronto, develops innovative global health solutions and helps bring them to scale

where they are most urgently needed.

www.srcglobal.org

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CIFOR Report Examines Gender, Tenure and Sustainable Forest Management in Uganda

From IISD; CIFOR Report Examines Gender, Tenure and Sustainable Forest Management in Uganda
April 2012:
The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has released a report documenting how women have been able to participate in community forest decision making in Uganda in the context of a series of national efforts toward the devolution of forest rights.

These efforts aim to achieve sustainable forest management. The study found that most government forestry projects do not feature gender issues prominently and that there is not an adequate budget to mainstream gender for most projects. It also noted that women’s participation in decision making has been improved in cases where women join formal forest user-group associations, and that the major factor inhibiting women’s participation in on-farm tree planting and plantation forestry has been gender disparities in land ownership, cultural norms, heavy domestic work loads, and limited access to credit.

The study finds that women who are equipped with better information and finances may be in a better position to participate effectively in the management of forest resources. CIFOR is a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). [Publication: Gender, Tenure and Community Forests in Uganda]


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hope comes to Uganda nodding disease patients

By Esther Nakkazi

When President Yoweri Museveni visited the young patients suffering from head-nodding syndrome admitted at Mulago referral hospital in Kampala, last month, he promised a massive spray of insects as part of the strategy to wipe it out.

“The government will kill all insects by spraying and treat all people at once,” said Museveni urging the young patients to also complete the dosage prescribed to avoid re-emergence.

Museveni was taking a militaristic strategy and not waiting for a science evidence-based approach. He disassociated nodding syndrome from HIV/AIDS because it is ‘curable’ and the drugs to treat River Blindness are available in Uganda.

In a Phase I among cases and controls for serologic testing, the only significant finding found by investigations was that ‘nodding syndrome cases were more likely to have antibodies against O. Volvulus (the black fly-borne parasite known for causing River Blindness) than controls.’ But that was not conclusive.

Now the government has released Ush 2.7 billion ($1.2 million) for treatment and screening centres. Within less than a month of setting these up at least 597 children have been registered at four sites.

Most of these children arrive at treatment centres on wheelbarrows but the majority are not showing up due to lack of transport and no ambulances in the area.

The treatment centres are stocked with anti-epileptic drugs such as Sodium Valproate as well as multi-vitamin and nutrient supplementation. All this is part of the Ush 7 billion ($2.8 million) response plan now underway.

Village health teams are doing community surveillance, identification, follow-up of cases and distributing fortified foods –maize and beans.

Similarly in south Sudan, Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recommended reinforcing mass Ivermectin treatment for and conducting seizure management using antiepileptic medications.

Some parents have testified that their children ‘feel better’ with anti-epileptic drugs while researchers have found most affected children have vitamin B6 deficiency and other micronutrients (Vitamin A, Selenium and Zinc). However, these deficiencies were also present to a big extent with children in the same area without nodding syndrome says some CDC studies.

The focus is now on potential treatment through clinical trials. Nodding syndrome started in 2009 and has affected 3,000 children aged 5-15 with about 200 deaths. Most of the affected are males and live in areas where Onchocerciasis is prevalent.

“The clinical trials will look at the different treatment plans,” said Dr. Anthony Mbonye, commissioner Health Service at the Ministry of Health.

Patients will be randomized to receive anti-seizure medications, or high dose vitamin B6 treatment and a crossover between the trial arms.

Start date of the trials depends on finalizing the protocol and approval by the Ethics Review Board. The survey will include four arms with the goal of enrolling about 80 children.

So far, presentation of the syndrome suggests a possible new type of seizure disorder called atonic seizure says the CDC. But there is no known cure or cause and its disability effects aroused a huge public outcry.

Nodding disease is characterized by repetitive dropping forward of the head sometimes precipitated by food or cold weather and often accompanied by seizures or staring spells.

During these episodes children appear non- responsive with a deterioration of brain function. Generally there is growth retardation due to malnutrition.

Now the very sick are admitted at treatment centres but previously, parents just tied them on trees as they went about their daily chores. The community and siblings of the affected children shun them as if it were contagious.

A team with social workers, psychiatrists, environmentalists, clinicians, ecologists, epidemiologists, and nutritionists is being assembled.

“We are giving an opportunity to different professionals to conduct research in different areas,” said Dr. Jane Acheng the Director General of Health Services at the Ministry of Health.

“There are many aspects of Nodding Syndrome that need study and support. Research is one fundamental area to which WHO and CDC are committing considerable time and resources,” said Dr Joaquim Saweka WHO Representative to Uganda.

“We need to know exactly what causes Nodding Syndrome; what are the best treatment options; what does NS eventually result into; and what are its social impact in the affected communities” noted Dr Saweka.

Investigations into the possible cause or causes by CDC have been extensive but without conclusions; excluding more than 3 dozen possible infectious, toxic, nutritional possible causes, including hundreds of possible viruses.

“We share the frustration. We do not have the underlying cause, but we need continued collaboration,” said Dr. Scott Dowell the director of the Division of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response (GDDER) at CDC.

“Discovering the cause or cure may be far in the future,” said Dr. Dowell at a press conference held at the American embassy in Kampala. “Our hope is that the clinical trial will give clinicians and families a better idea of how to treat the children.”




Saturday, April 21, 2012

SCIENTISTS & POLITICIANS URGED TO CLOSE RANKS TO CONTAIN DISASTERS

Press Release
….EALA Speaker says move will check on hazards and foster climate change adaptation

East African Legislative Assembly, Arusha, April 5, 2012: Legislators and scientists need to close ranks and concretise collaboration in the quest to enhance Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies globally, EALA Speaker, Rt. Hon Abdirahin Abdi is saying.

Such a move, the Speaker notes, is pegged at enhancing proactivity and focusing on preparedness and resilience prior to hazards, rather than placing the spotlight on the usual relief and rehabilitation coming in the face of disasters. The EALA Speaker made the remarks while addressing Parliamentarians during a panel discussion on Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable development held in Kampala, Uganda.

The Panel discussion organized jointly by United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) took place on April 3, 2012 on the sidelines of the 126th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly. Over 70 legislators from 20 countries in the African, Asian and American continent were in attendance.

The Speaker was categorical that the drought the EAC region faced three years ago could have been ameliorated had legislators paid attention to the predictions of the climate experts.

‘Had politicians at the EAC for example, listened to the scientists’ predictions over the 2009 drought, we would have at least averted its devastating impact. It is now time to forget about the past or forget disagreements if any and forge the way forward”, Hon Abdi remarked, adding that EALA would continue to co-ordinate with local governments, CSOs and the academia among other stakeholders in order to boost DRR strategies.

The EALA Speaker noted that the Assembly was looking forward to enacting a specific law on DRR which would among other things, avail the much needed resources as part of the adaptation for DRR.
In East Africa, a reported 20 million people suffered from the harsh consequences of drought in 2009. Two years later, another 10 million were affected by the worst drought in East Africa and the Greater Horn of Africa region reported in over six decades.

The panel chaired by Hon (Mr.) Alex Byarugaba, MP, Uganda and the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Disaster Risk Reduction Forum of Uganda saw presentations from several parliamentarians.


Hon Saber Chowdhury, MP from Bangladesh noted that a staggering USD 5.9 billion, amounting to about 3% of the GDP was lost in Bangladesh over a nine year period (1991-2000) due to disasters with a corresponding half a million lives lost.Hon Chowdhury however noted the inculcation of early warning systems and the building of cyclone shelters as a strategy that had saved a vast majority of lives during disasters, reducing deaths and displacements by an impressive 99%.

The former Minister for State Disaster Management in Japan, Hon Yoshitaka Murata said Japan had improved its legislation, policies and disaster response systems with every subsequent disaster. Hon Murata said Japan was more responsive now following the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and a similar disaster and subsequent Tsunami that took place last year.

Panama on its part has updated institutional guidelines, standards and policies, with the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction in development plans, development of good risk reduction and sustainable use of natural resources in the private and public sectors according to Hon Ronny Arauz, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Panama.
Ms. Sanne Boswijk, the Disaster Law Delegate for Africa at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies called for legal preparedness on the part of countries to contain disasters.

‘Legal preparedness is deemed vital during times of disasters for effective relief response including removing regulatory barriers and balancing between legal issues and the reality on the ground at entry points (borders and ports). With such challenges, it is important to explore together, a general Treaty on disasters,’ Ms. Boswijk stated.

In her remarks, Dr (Ms) Feng Min Kan, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction urged governments to forge coherent approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction by using the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015). The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) is a 10-year plan to make the world safer from natural hazards adopted by 168 Member States of the United Nations in 2005 at the World Disaster Reduction Conference

The Participants thus undertook to facilitate linkages between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation through relevant legislation and policy convergence in regional and national action plans.
In this regard, the Parliamentarians noted that the Philippines Act on Disaster Management and the Model Act on International Disaster Relief Law were good entry points and called for the sharing of best practices.
The legislators also undertook to stay the course and scale up the use of risk reduction tools as a core policy element for climate change adaptation, the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.
Meanwhile, the IPU Assembly is expected to end in Kampala later on today.
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For more information, contact
Bobi Odiko, Senior Public Relations Officer, East African Legislative Assembly. Tel: +255-27-2508240 Fax: +255-27-2503103, Cell: +255-787-870945 +254-733-718036 Email: BOdiko@eachq.org, Web: http://www.eala.org

Rheumatic heart disease is significantly under-treated in Africa and India


Press Release
Preliminary data from the REMEDY study presented at the World Congress of Cardiology organized by the World Heart Federation

Dubai (21 April 2012): Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is significantly under-treated in Africa and India according to the preliminary findings of a new global study presented today at the World Congress of Cardiology.

Across the African and Indian regions included in the study it was revealed that patients are not receiving the surgery they need, secondary prevention with penicillin - to prevent further attacks of rheumatic fever - is being under-utilized and many patients are unaware of their target anti-coagulation levels.

Specifically, only 41 per cent of patients enrolled in the study had received surgery. As the pilot results included a large tertiary academic centre, this does not reflect the dire lack of surgery available at the majority of enrolling centers. In fact, more than 85 per cent of the enrolling centres do not have surgery available on a regular basis for RHD patients.

Nearly one-quarter of all patients (22 per cent) were in atrial fibrillation and of these patients, only 65 per cent were receiving necessary anti-coagulant therapy. Moreover, 71 per cent of these patients did not know their target international normalized ratio (INR) - an indicator of blood clotting time - 14 per cent had no INR reading in the six months prior to enrolling in the study and 78 per cent were not at their INR target.

The study results further showed that only 36 per cent of patients with moderate or severe disease and only 20 per cent of those that have undergone valve replacement surgery are receiving secondary prophylaxis with penicillin.

“Across Africa and India it is widely known by cardiologists that many patients with RHD do not have access to the healthcare treatment they need. These results unfortunately show that even those that are being treated are not receiving the care they need, for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Liesl Züklhe, Paediatric Cardiologist, Red Cross Children’s Hospital, University of Cape Town, South Africa. “These preliminary results are the first step in really understanding the extent of the problems that the RHD community are facing. We urgently need to accumulate robust data and investigate the barriers of care that exist in order to control this disease. Hopefully this will reinforce the need for political commitment and action to fight this disease.”

These data represent the first findings from the RHD global registry (REMEDY), which is currently ongoing in almost 30 centres in Africa, Middle East and India. Five hundred and seventy-nine patients from 10 sites in Africa and India were enrolled in the REMEDY study during the first 10-month pilot period as part of a global effort to better understand the situation today.


About RHD
RHD is a chronic heart condition caused by rheumatic fever that can be prevented and controlled. Rheumatic fever is caused by a preceding group A streptococcal (strep) throat infection. Treating strep throat with antibiotics can prevent rheumatic fever. Moreover, regular antibiotics (usually by injections every three to four weeks) can prevent patients with rheumatic fever from contracting further strep infections and causing progression of valve damage.

RHD is a substantial global health problem that can result in irreversible heart damage and death. It occurs predominately in developing countries and is also common in poorer populations in middle-income countries (e.g. Brazil, India) and some indigenous populations in wealthy countries (Australia, New Zealand). RHD will continue to be a global problem unless current prevention initiatives are expanded and sustained.

Previous estimates state that more than 15 million people have RHD and that 350,000 people die each year while many more are left disabled.

About the World Congress of Cardiology
The World Congress of Cardiology Scientific Sessions (WCC) is the official congress of the World Heart Federation and is held every two years. Through the Congress the World Heart Federation offers an international stage for the latest developments in science and public outreach in the field of cardiovascular health. The WCC places emphasis on the complementary nature of science and public outreach and strives to spread the message that through individual, community and patient-care interventions, the growing epidemic of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented. For more information, please visit: www.worldcardiocongress.org; keep up with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #WCC2012Dubai

About the World Heart Federation
The World Heart Federation is dedicated to leading the global fight against heart disease and stroke with a focus on low- and middle-income countries via a united community of more than 200 member organizations. With its members, the World Heart Federation works to build global commitment to addressing cardiovascular health at the policy level, generates and exchanges ideas, shares best practice, advances scientific knowledge and promotes knowledge transfer to tackle cardiovascular disease – the world’s number one killer. It is a growing membership organization that brings together the strength of medical societies and heart foundations from more than 100 countries. Through our collective efforts we can help people all over the world to lead longer and better heart-healthy lives. For more information, please visit: www.worldheart.org; twitter.com/worldheartfed; facebook.com/worldheartfederation

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For more information please contact:
wcc2012mediacentre@figmentcommunications.com

Friday, April 6, 2012

PARLIAMENTS SCALE UP EFFORTS TO SECURE THE HEALTH OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN

PRESS RELEASE

KAMPALA, UGANDA, APRIL 5 – Leaders of nearly 120 national parliaments attending a major meeting here this week resolved to prioritize action and resources for improving the health of women and children.

Delegates to the Inter-Parliamentary Union passed a resolution today calling for all member-parliaments to take all possible measures to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 by 2015. MDG 4 aims to reduce child deaths around the world by two thirds by 2015, while MDG 5 aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the same year.

This is the first time that the world’s parliaments, acting through the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), have passed a resolution on this issue. The debate on the resolution, which took place over three days in Kampala this week, featured interventions from more than 50 member-delegations, associate members and observers, including Nigeria, Brazil, the UK, Sweden and Indonesia.

The resolution was initiated by parliamentarians from Uganda in April 2011 at the IPU Assembly in Panama, and proceeded from a September 2011 special report, ‘Access to Health as a Basic Right: the Role of Parliaments in Addressing Key Challenges to Securing the Health of Women and Children.’

The Canadian Parliament, as host of the next Assembly of the IPU in Quebec City, in October, will follow up with a dedicated push on maternal, newborn and child health to support the implementation of the resolution. Senator Salma Ataullahjan noted that “Canada has significantly supported women’s and children’s health through our Muskoka Initiative, our support to the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and our Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.

Without healthy women and children, the potential of our nations remains unfulfilled. I am encouraged by the IPU’s adoption of this resolution and will, looking towards the 127th Assembly in Quebec City, work to facilitate its implementation.”

Speaking during the Assembly, Ms. Paula Turyahikayo, one of the three IPU Rapporteurs responsible for developing the resolution, said: "The adoption of the resolution on MDGs 4 and 5 in Kampala is a major achievement. We hope that now all the stakeholders will come in and strengthen efforts by parliaments that make it possible to implement the resolution in all countries where MDGs 4 and 5 are doing badly." She also noted that “strengthened partnership between parliamentarians, civil society organizations, media, the private sector and all other relevant actors will be key to the implementation of this resolution.”

Mr Martin Chungong, Director of Programmes at the Inter-Parliamentary Union noted that “this resolution is welcome and will go a long way in structuring the engagement of parliamentarians in national efforts to improve the health of women and children. The Inter-Parliamentary Union intends to support this effort through the development of tools that parliamentarians will be able to use in their efforts to promote accountability for better results.

The resolution gives the Inter-Parliamentary Union a renewed mandate to work with its partners to strengthen parliamentary capacity in support of maternal, newborn and child health. We are committed to that mandate. We urge development partners, notably CSOs, to support parliamentarians in their efforts through capacity building and the provision of evidence when required.”

Over 1,500 members of parliament and parliamentary staff drawn from 119 countries worldwide attended the IPU Assembly in Kampala. The IPU, created in 1889, is the world’s leading forum for parliamentary dialogue on common issues of concern, and holds a general assembly for members each spring and fall. This spring’s agenda for Kampala also included an IPU initiative to reduce violence in Syria and improve access to humanitarian aid, as well as the launch of the first Global Parliamentary Report, co-produced with UNDP, investigating the state of relations between parliaments and citizens.

Women’s and children’s health was also the focus of IPU Assembly plenary addresses given by Professor Babatunde Osetimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA who spoke on reproductive and maternal health, and Anthony Lake, Director of UNICEF, who spoke on nutrition. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also provided an address, calling attention to the Every Woman Every Child effort, in support of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), the Countdown to 2015 effort and UN agencies have been important technical partners of the IPU in the lead-up to this resolution, beginning from 2008, when they first co-hosted a session on maternal, newborn and child health during the IPU’s spring assembly in South Africa.

Since then, PMNCH has worked closely with the IPU and host parliaments in organizing panel discussions, site visits, research reports, and knowledge summaries to increase knowledge and awareness among parliamentarians, focusing on their important roles in allocation, oversight, representation and accountability for women’s and children’s health.

Says Dr. Carole Presern, Director of PMNCH: “Parliamentarians play a crucial role as advocates for women’s and children’s health. They can create enabling environments through legislation and through policy and budget support. Most importantly, they can promote accountability of the executive and political arms for women’s and children’s health by supporting the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.”

Delegates at the Kampala meeting called upon parliamentarians to scrutinize all government health interventions to ensure they are evidence-based, conform to international human rights standards, and are responsive to regular and transparent performance reviews.

Maternal and child mortality rates remain unacceptably high, and many countries, especially in Africa, are not on track to achieve MDGs 4 and 5. About 7.6 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday in 2010, with 41 per cent dying in their first month. In 2008, 358,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Many women and children around the world do not have access to the professional care, medicines and supplies that can save their lives and those of their children. Many pregnant women are not being attended to by skilled health professionals during labour and delivery, a major contributing factor to maternal and newborn deaths. In Sub Saharan Africa, 50% of women deliver their babies without professional care. Parliamentarians play a critical role in allocating resources, enacting laws, overseeing implementation, and reflecting the views of citizens about their access to health services.