While a lot of important news has been coming out of the United Nations General Assembly lately, there is one story that may not make the front pages, but should be at the front of our minds: the health of women and children around the world.

Why?  Most importantly, women and children everywhere deserve quality health care.  If we can land a rover on Mars and map out the genes of the human body, we should also be able to prevent millions of women and children from dying of mostly preventable causes like pregnancy complications, malnutrition, pneumonia, measles, and malaria.

As many in the development community say, investing in the health of women and children isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do.  When women and children are healthy, they can learn more and earn more, which leads to more stable and productive communities.

The world is making important progress on this front.  Recently, the United Nations released a report that showed a significant decline in the number of global childhood deaths.   In 1990, 12 million children under the age of 5 died around the world.  Last year, that number dropped to an estimated 6.9 million children.  Since 2009, the number of new HIV infections among children has dropped by 24 percent.  And the number of maternal deaths has decreased by 47 percent since 1990.

To be clear, we have more work to do – and we need to do it faster in order to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, which set critical targets for reducing child and maternal mortality by 2015.  We must continually assess our progress and talk about where we need to do better, because when the international community mobilizes, we can generate meaningful change.

The improvements made to date are evidence of this.  They did not happen by accident – they happened because the United Nations and many others have made the health of women and children a priority in the global agenda.  The Millennium Development Goals highlighted the connection of maternal and child health to overall development.  And two years ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched “Every Woman Every Child,” a movement to mobilize and intensify global action on women’s and children’s health.

The initiative has done more than galvanize the global community; it has also helped organize it by providing a common framework for international institutions, national governments, the private sector, civil society, and others to address women’s and children’s health.  By working together, we can better identify needs, coordinate action, leverage resources, improve efficiency, and develop innovative partnerships.

To date, more than 250 organizations, including the United Nations Foundation, have made commitments worth nearly $58 billion in support of Every Woman Every Child.  Commitments – many of which are underway – range from providing additional training for midwives to using mobile phones for health care to bolstering national health care budgets.  By providing a public strategy and commitments, the initiative encourages transparency and has helped catalyze new attention and investment in some of the most neglected causes of women’s and children’s mortality, including access to contraceptives and preterm birth.

While efforts like these have spurred important action, we can’t take our foot off the pedal now.  To help more women and children survive and thrive, we need additional financial resources, a focus on communities that have been left behind, greater access to life-saving vaccines for children, and a sustained commitment to women’s sexual and reproductive health, among other steps.  And we all can do more to increase accountability, monitor progress, and make sure we deliver results.

The gains we have made in recent years are proof that change is possible and a better world is within reach if we act.  As we reflect on our progress, let us also recommit to the task at hand and save the lives of millions of women and children.


This blog is published in support of Every Woman Every Child, a global movement spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Heads of State and Government; Heads of U.N. Agencies; CEOs; and other global leaders to save the lives of 16 million women and children and improve the lives of millions more by 2015. Learn more at www.everywomaneverychild.org.