Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health: G8 Heats Up

Jill Sheffield

The wives of the prime ministers of the UK and Japan have shown strong support for maternal and child health at the G8 Summit.

What do they mean,
G-8? In fact at least 23 countries are represented among the dignitaries
rushing around here at today’s opening session of the Group of Eight,
a recognition that many world issues are beyond even the power of the
eight most powerful world economies.   

Africa’s problems were Monday’s focus:
Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania
took part in discussions on development assistance and soaring food
prices. On Wednesday, the focus will be Australia, Brazil, China, India,
Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico and South Africa, who will join the G-8
for talks at their island conference venue. In between, the main Group
of Eight will confer, and most of their discussions will be broadcast
live to us NGOs milling about here at a stunning ski resort about 45
minutes away.  

The setting is breathtaking, amid steep
mountains that vanish into the clouds, with events spread out among
distant buildings. But it’s all green now, the breadbasket of the
country, and it’s early spring crop time: Lunch choices involved sugar
snap peas, asparagus, berries, lovely cheeses and 11 soft ice cream
flavors, including purple sweet potato. That’s high on my list of
things to try. And of course there’s riot squads and padded wagons
too numerous to count. Camouflage helicopters buzz in and out with VIPs,
limousines hover and police are visible everywhere. 

Sarah Brown, the wife of UK Prime Minister
Gordon Brown, and Kiyoko Fukuda, wife of the Japanese Prime Minister,
had us to tea at the British embassy in Tokyo on Saturday afternoon:
Japanese dignitaries, the health and population community, and other
international visitors, some of whom were in Japan for the G-8 meetings.
It was very hot and humid but we got cucumber sandwiches and enormously
enthusiastic support for our health agenda from all present.

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Mrs. Brown
praised Family Care International, Oxfam and White Ribbon Alliance as the engines behind the
success so far in landing maternal health high on the agenda, and said
she would spend her entire time here working on the issue. Mrs. Fukuda
focused more on MDG 4, children’s health. It is really energizing
to have their warmth and support. 

There’s a so-called People’s Summit
2008 in Sapporo, about 50 km. west of here, where alternative views
are being aired by NGOs, anti-Iraq-war demonstrators, and anti-globalization
groups as well as farmers, students, and union activists. They had a
peaceful Peace Walk on Sunday, where Oxfam representatives dressed up
in kimonos as the G-8 leaders and did a karaoke rendition of Abba’s
"Money, Money, Money."  

Attention is being paid to all this –
nearly 3,000 journalists are covering the G-8 from a media center set
up at a ski resort in Rusutsu; 30 of them for every one of the 100 or
so NGO representatives. Pretty good odds, for once! 

Hard work starts Tuesday 

The draft final communiqué is expected
to come out Tuesday, and the buzz is all about the new order in the
health section: it usually starts with a discussion of infectious diseases,
but this year Section A will focus on the need to strengthen health
systems worldwide. This is very different and a major step forward (the hope is they’ll call for 2.3 workers per 1,000 people and a global
investment of $60 billion). Following this – Section B – focuses on maternal, newborn and child health; also a first and a real triumph in being spotlighted this

We hear that the United States delegation
wanted to eliminate any reference to reproductive health services, in
their usual opposition to the International Conference on Population
and Development goals, and that the European countries, especially Germany,
led the resistance, so that this critical language is still in the draft.
I’ll keep you posted.  

Infectious disease is the focus of Section
C, which also emphasizes the need for a cross-sectoral approach, noting
the interrelationship of all the MDGs and the importance of gender issues.  

So far, the communique’s final paragraph
(#30) says the G-8 "also recognizes that for progress to be made on
maternal, reproductive and child health, and emerging and neglected
health priorities, additional resources-from both domestic and international
sources-are needed if the health MDGs are to be achieved…" 

The NGO health group here has designed
a clever scorecard to evaluate what happens on our global health issues
in terms of numerical targets, financial commitments and plans, timelines
and actions. We’ll be giving out grades as soon as the conference
ends Wednesday – so stay tuned.

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