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26 July - Investing in maternal and child health results in outsized benefits, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said, urging African leaders to make the issue a top priority and meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline of drastically improving reproductive care across the continent.

Speaking yesterday in Kampala, Uganda, at the African Union (AU) summit, Ms. Migiro told the assembled heads of State, prime ministers and other leaders that the evidence was clear that women and children are the “engines” driving future economic growth in their communities.

“Investing in women pays. It is one of the best investments we can make for this and future generations,” adding that “we know that the necessary investments are modest in relation to the vast benefits that will follow.”

But the deputy United Nations chief noted that progress on maternal and child health is lagging in sub-Saharan Africa, five years before the world is supposed to meet its MDG targets of slashing the maternal mortality ratio by 75 per cent, achieving universal access to reproductive health, and reducing the under-five mortality by two thirds.

She said that achieving the MDGs – a series of targets set by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000 – would be especially difficult in those African countries that also face the problems of widespread malnutrition or the HIV pandemic.

“Time and again, we have seen that progress demands leadership – leaders who devote themselves utterly to a challenge… who make it a daily touchstone… a constant subject of meetings… a prominent part of their budget outlays… a matter by which their ministers will be judged.

“When leaders do this… on AIDS, climate, on many other issues… when leaders are engaged and hands-on… good things happen. So it is good and right that Africa's leaders should make maternal and child health a head-of-State concern.”

Ms. Migiro said Africa already has many of its own examples of countries making important progress.

In Rwanda, the use of modern contraceptive methods has almost tripled and skilled birth attendance rates have soared; Senegal has scaled up its community programmes for dealing with pneumonia among children; and Tanzania has slashed child deaths through vaccinations, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin supplements.

“There has also been good progress in improving food and nutrition security… This is just the beginning of what is possible with the right policies and international support.”

Dozens of world leaders are expected to gather at UN Headquarters in New York in mid-September to attend a summit aimed at accelerating international efforts towards all the MDGs, including maternal and child health.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's joint action plan on speeding up progress on women's and children's health – which calls for governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, civil society and others to work more closely together – will be launched at this event.

Ms. Migiro stressed at the summit today that on maternal health and “across the development agenda, mutual accountability between Africa and its development partners can work.

“We are also calling on all partners, despite the economic crisis, to maintain and, most importantly, to increase resources. Many African States are showing that they have the capacity and national development plans to absorb such funding.”