The G8 Takes on Maternal Health — Or Does It?

Jill Sheffield

Will the nations gathered at the G8 summit realize that investing in women's health is the best way to fight poverty?

The G-8 Summit opens today
in Hokkaido, Japan, and it’s ironic but perhaps not surprising that
the media and we civil society representatives are being kept at arm’s
length from the world leaders who should hear our messages.

The Group of Eight, the world’s
largest economies, have added health — and specifically maternal health — to
the agenda of this year’s annual meeting, at the behest of this year’s host, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. In fact, the G-8 will consider every major
global issue during this three-day gathering: world economy,
the environment and climate change, development (especially in Africa),
and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly health, water and education. This year is
special — it marks the halfway point to the 2015 deadline for meeting
the MDGs, and it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.

And 2008 is also the start
of the First Commitment Period (i.e., the first steps) of the Kyoto
Protocol on fighting global warming, and the start of negotiations for
the next period. The G-8 leaders will talk about all that, and they
are also considering major political issues like strengthening nuclear
non-proliferation strategies and building world peace.

Reliable rumor has it that
the working draft of the G-8 final communiqué refers favorably to the
need for action on the maternal health and child survival but omits
the $10 billion "ask" we recommended to the Sherpas
— the personal representatives of the heads of state who prepare for the G-8 each year — which could save the lives of six million mothers and children
each year. This illustrates one of the great G-8 problems: it announces
many good intentions and makes sterling promises, but the leaders then
consistently fail to deliver. 

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We hope the leaders will at
least agree to make global health (and maternal health) a part of every
G-8 agenda from now on, until they DO deliver; and that they will set
up a system to evaluate and track progress on the promises and pledges
that are made. That would be a good first step. We shall see. The meeting
ends Wednesday night.

The Civil G-8

From April 23 to 24, civil
society representatives from around the world convened in Kyoto, Japan
and joined selected Japanese civil society groups as part of a series
of preparatory sessions leading up to the G-8 Summit in July. Participants
were chosen by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs; in Japan, there’s
regular dialogue between the foreign ministry and NGOs on global health,
and this year the Japanese Organization for International Cooperation
on Family Planning (JOICFP) played a significant role in setting up
this Civil G-8 session.

That session, the third annual,
was small and focused, with about 200 participants (including 50 journalists)
organized by Japan’s Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP),
funded by the foreign ministry and OSI. Its purpose is to come up with
joint civil society positions to sell to the G-8, through their Sherpas,
who hold their own pre-G-8 meeting every year on world economic issues.
An EU representative chaired the session.

There was lots of talk about
world financial trends, all downward. Not one of the G-8 has reached
the recommended level of contributing 0.7 percent of GDP to overseas
development assistance. The countries that are the most on track have
commitment from their leaders, who have prioritized it in their budgets;
more accountability and transparency, especially on delivery systems;
and more media and public debate.

Some of us wanted to push harder
on that and on abolishing conditions on aid. Two issues were over-arching:
the number of health workers on hand versus the number needed to create
global health; and the new food crisis.

After a lot of discussion among
the dozen civil society groups focusing on health, we decided three
speakers would make presentations to the Sherpas at the April meeting:
one on MDGs 4 and 5 (improve maternal and child health – that was
me); one on MDG 6 (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – that
was Masaki Inaba, Programme Coordinator on HIV/AIDS, Africa Japan Forum);
and one on MDG 3 (promote gender equality – Dorothy Shaw, President
of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology).

The basic message on maternal
and child health then and now is: "We know what to do. We know how
to do it. We know what it costs. We sadly know what it costs NOT to
do it." The full statement from the health-focused groups called for
fulfillment of the G-8 commitment made at last year’s Summit to provide
$60 billion for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, and to add an additional $10
billion for maternal and child health.

The Sherpas showed differing
levels of interest in what we all had to say. Germany, Japan and the
UK were receptive; the U.S. was focused on environment and climate change.

Afterward, nobody in our group
was optimistic about getting much more money allocated since current
trends in health funding have been downward. But this could change
if the right people actually understand the truth of our arguments that
investing in women’s health is the best way to fight poverty. Again,
we shall see.

Topics and Tags:

G8, women's health

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