August 20, 2014 |

Accelerating progress in Africa: 6 important global health commitments

Young African woman in a classroom turns and smiles at the camera.
Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, we’ve seen remarkable global progress. But work remains to be done. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

This week we move into the final 500 days of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were established in 2000 with a 15-year timeframe.

Since the launch of the MDGs, we’ve seen remarkable global progress toward reduced child mortality, better maternal health, and control of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The number of deaths of under-five children has been halved. There has been a 40% reduction in the number of women dying due to complications in child birth. And, there are significantly fewer deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

But there is still considerable work to be done. Too many mothers and children continue to die, and the majority of these deaths are preventable. In this final 500 day push, we must accelerate progress towards ending preventable maternal, child, and newborn death in the world’s most vulnerable areas.

Graphic of the MDGs
The MDGs are eight international development goals established in 2000.

World leaders must prioritize health issues within their countries to achieve MDG success. Earlier this month, over 40 African heads of state joined President Obama at the US-Africa Leaders Summit to explore new cooperation and partnerships for progress in Africa, including health.

US-Africa Leaders Summit Provides Six Key Commitments

Trade and private sector investments as drivers for economic growth emerged as the primary focus of the Summit, a theme we first saw when President Obama traveled to Africa last summer. While trade and investment are important tools for development, and US policies and partnerships in this area have been notably lacking, market-based solutions do not always reach Africa’s most vulnerable people, particularly for health.

Foreign aid must continue be a strong component of US cooperation with Africa in order to make changes that save lives and achieve the MDGs. At the Summit, over $37 billion dollars in commitments were announced by the US government and multi-sector investors to further development in Africa. They included key global health commitments that will advance efforts to end preventable maternal, child, and newborn deaths:

  1. The United States commitment to save 8 million children and 350,000 mothers by 2020. “Accelerate Action in Africa”, launched by the Obama Administration, will build on the vision outlined in USAID’s Acting on the Call report and create a policy and financing framework to meet its ambitious targets for lives saved.
  2. A recommitment to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and broader immunization coverage. Since 2000, GAVI has supported the immunization of 390 million children worldwide. Immunization is the most cost-effective health intervention, saving an estimated two to three million lives every year.
  3. Scale-up of malaria interventions. Renewed support for the US President’s Malaria Initiative. With assistance from the US, scale-up of malaria interventions over the past decade has saved 3.3 million lives, 90 percent of which were under-five children in sub-Saharan Africa.
  4. A $200 million commitment to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for African children. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, will double the number of children receiving ART across ten priority African countries over the next two years.
  5. Regulatory harmonization for lifesaving medicines. The US government committed $1.5 million to support a new initiative in East Africa to harmonize regulatory processes for medicines. This is an important step in ensuring access to lifesaving and innovative treatments.
  6. Recognition of good governance and an engaged citizenry as priorities in African countries. Building capacity for stronger in-country advocates will help citizens hold their governments accountable for health commitments to accelerate progress toward the MDGs. Later this month, PATH will roll out Advocacy Impact for Health. The new initiative will give citizens and community groups the tools necessary to become successful advocates for policy change.

These important commitments will save lives and improve health in the areas where such efforts are needed most. The progress towards MDGs, and the ongoing global commitment to health equity and poverty eradication, are cause for cautious optimism. We must continue to accelerate efforts if we are to achieve a world where all people truly have an opportunity to live healthy lives with dignity.

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  • Heather Ignatius is a senior advocacy and policy officer with the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.