Interview with… Bience Philomina GAWANAS, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs

Interview with… Bience Philomina GAWANAS, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs

Friday, 12 November, 2010

In the wake of the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), common African position on the MDGs’ has been released. It indicates that Africa has made consistent progress and that African countries have put in place ‘bold and innovative policies’. Link! Newsletter team from EU delegation to Addis Ababa, has interviewed Dr. Bience Philomina GAWANAS, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs.

On the 22nd of September 2010, the UN convened a High Level Summit dedicated to the MDGs. What was the African Common Position aiming at? Were the expectations of the AUC fulfilled?

The AUC promotes continental and global solidarity in our aim of reducing poverty and inequality and achieving human and social development. For Africa in particular it is critical to ensure social and human development remains high on the African and global agenda. We note that all MDGs deal with social and human development and whilst progress has been made in social development and reaching the MDGs, Africa still faces numerous social development challenges which have an impact on communities particularly the poor and vulnerable.

Africa therefore attended the High Level UN MDGs Summit with a view of highlighting the plight of Africa and all developing nations, especially those lagging behind in the attainment of MDGs. Considerable attention was given to developing countries under resolutions 8,9,19 and 26.

The African leaders adopted a common position at the 15th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly. The decisions of this AU summit have been acknowledged and reflected in the outcome of the High Level UN MDGs Summit. They read (in part) as follows:

“In this regard, we welcome the convening of the fifteenth African Union Summit, in Kampala from 19 to 27 July 2010, with the theme “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”, the launch of the African Union “Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa”; the “Africa Cares: No Woman Should Die While Giving Life” campaign;” Resolution 63

“In particular, we express grave concern over the slow progress being made on reducing maternal mortality and improving maternal and reproductive health. Progress on other Millennium Development Goals is fragile and must be sustained to avoid reversal.” Resolution 20

Therefore, Africa’s expectations at the High Level UN MDGs Summit were met.

Why did maternal, infant and child health and development in Africa constitute the theme of the 15th AU Summit held in Kampala (19-27 July 2010)? Which relevant decisions did come out of it?

At its previous Summit held in 2009, the Assembly (Assembly/AU/Dec.232(XII)) adopted Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa as the theme for the 15th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly for the following reasons:

  • Maternal infant and child health is strongly linked to development in Africa. Equally, all MDGs are directly or indirectly related to MCH.
  • With the realization that MDGs4, 5 & 6 are unlikely to be met in Africa, the AU Heads of State & Government needed to consider how to accelerate progress in the attained of MDG targets related to maternal, infant and child health.
  • The AU Heads of State & Government needed to review progress on their past commitments such as the “Abuja Call” and Maputo Plan of Action and make decisions on the way forward.

These were amongst the key messages at the Summit:

  • Adopt  a comprehensive, integrated and a multi-sectoral approach to all Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly MDGs 1 (c), 4, 5, 6
  • Integrated and strengthened health systems for the delivery of interventions and services at key points over the life course.
  • Scaling up nutrition interventions and promoting better nutrition practices are critical to promoting women and child’s health and to achieving the MDGs.
  • Investing in good health of women and children
  • Strong leadership and effective management for a sustainable health care delivery system
  • Reposition family planning and promote universal access to reproductive health services- safe pregnancy
  • Increase external funding, mobilize domestic resources (including Abuja 15% target) and ensure efficient use of available resources

Following the debate on the theme centered on the above key messages, the 15th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly adopted the following key actions:

  • Launch CARMMA in our countries and broaden it as an advocacy strategy for the promotion of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and involve all key stakeholders such as the women, children and young people, persons with disabilities, parliamentarians, community and religious leaders, civil society organizations, the media, and the private sector and institutionalize an annual CARMMA week in solidarity with the women and children of Africa for the next four years
  • Strengthen the health system to provide comprehensive, integrated,maternal, newborn and child health care services, in particular through primary health care, repositioning of family planning including reproductive health commodities security, infrastructure development and skilled human resources for health in particular to train Community Health Workers to mitigate the human resource crisis in the Health sector;
  • Provide stewardship as national Governments and achieve policy coherence by developing integrated health plans within the development plan with cross disease and cross sector health goals and coordinate multi-sectoral actions and multi-agency partnerships;
  • Provide strong support for sharing and scaling up of identified good practices that have high impact and that are cost effective; and request the AU Commission to map and disseminate such practices;
  • Provide sustainable financing by enhancing domestic resources mobilization including meeting the 15% Abuja target, as well as, mobilizing resources through public-private partnerships and by reducing out-of pocket payments through initiatives such as waiving of user fees for pregnant women and children under five and by instituting national health insurance;
  • Request the AU Commission in collaboration with partners including the G-8 to develop a mechanism for accessing such fund by AU Member States;
  • Call on the Global Fund for Fight against HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB to create a new window to fund maternal, Newborn and Child Health. In this context, we appeal to development partners and donors for the replenishment of the Global Fund during its October 2010 meeting and to ensure that the new pledges are earmarked for Maternal Newborn and Child Health. We also appeal for equitable access to the Global Fund resources for all African Union Member States.
  • Institute a strong and functional monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework at country level to provide accurate, reliable and timely maternal, newborn, and child data to monitor progress against agreed indicators and targets, measure health performance and for informed decisions and actions including making maternal deaths notifiable and institute maternal death reviews.

The Heads of State also commit to annually report to this Assembly on progress and request the African Union Commission to establish an AU Taskforce on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; to extend the Abuja Call on Universal Access to and Maputo Plan of Action for a further 5 years to coincide with the final assessment of MDGs.

What are your expectations ahead of the 3rd AU/EU summit in November and how will the latter be reflected in the 2nd Action Plan of the Africa-EU Partnership on MDGs?

The third Africa-European Union Summit scheduled to be held in Libya later this year will focus on the 8 thematic partnerships which deal with development, governance and peace and security of the African continent.  One of the partnerships is on the MDGs with key objectives of increasing commitment among EU and AU Member States to meeting the MDGs and also to take forward concrete activities, initially in the areas of health, gender, education, agriculture, water and sanitation and disability.

Given the outcome of the recently held AU Summit as well as the UN review meeting on the MDGs, it is expected that MCH will be given high priority in the 2nd Action Plan and that a various activities will be undertaken which will help Africa achieve the MDG’s 4, 5 and 6.