KAMPALA, Jul 28, 2010 (IPS) - During the three-day summit of African Union heads of state, roughly 37,000 children and 2,000 women died across Africa, mostly from preventable causes, says a civil society coalition for child and maternal health. The coalition welcomed African leaders' pledge to make more resources available.
The 15th summit of the African Union ended with a commitment to pay greater attention to maternal, newborn and child health. Leaders also repeated calls for the arrest warrant against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to be stayed and committed more troops to the AU mission in Somalia.
African leaders said Africa will not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goal on infant and maternal health if more resources are not made available. They again committed to allocating their own resources by fulfilling promises made in the 2001 Abuja Declaration to spend 15 percent of national budgets on health, and by exploring public private partnerships.
The AU appealed to donors who will meet in an October 2010 meeting of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to extend the fund's support to child and maternal health.
The additional money is to be spent on strengthening public health systems with a focus on primary health care, family planning, improving infrastructure and training of more community health workers. It was also agreed to end out-of-pocket payments including user fees for pregnant women and children under five years.
"It was historic... because we have been asking about political will and leadership and there is no doubt that the African Union heads of states and governments have shown the political will to promote maternal and child health on the continent."
Civil society groups at the summit were initially concerned that the conflict in Somalia - which extended its deadly reach to the Ugandan capital with twin bombings just a week before the start of the AU meetings - would overshadow the formal theme of the summit.
But Chikezie Anyanwu, Africa advocacy coordinator for the charity Save the Children, told IPS that she was happy with outcome.
"They have highlighted that there is a health sector crisis with regards to personnel. They have committed themselves to ensure that health workers are a priority for them in the next five years," she said. "We are happy with the commitments so far, (but) we want more action."
Civil society points out that in nine years after the Abuja commitment, the World Health Organisation finds only three African governments met the target of 15 percent spending on health in 2010: Rwanda, Tanzania and Liberia. Over the past decade, Botswana, Niger, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Malawi have also met the target at various times.
Pointing to the example of Malawi, Anyanwu said poverty was not an excuse for lack of progress. "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."
As African leaders depart Kampala, the head of Oxfam's AU Liaison Office in Addis Ababa cautioned that pledges are one thing, action another.
"While this declaration is a positive step, most of it has been promised before but has never been delivered. Only ten percent 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."