Commonwealth parliamentarians discuss their role in improving women’s and children’s health

29 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2011 | LONDON UK

Over 60 parliamentarians from 40 countries participated in a session on the role of parliaments in keeping the promises on women’s and children’s health - this at the International Parliamentary Conference on the Millennium Development Goals, hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK (CPA UK). Partners, including Assistant-Director of WHO, Dr Flavia Bustreo, spoke about parliamentarians role in ensuring women’s and children’s health.

The session - 'Reaching for 2015: Governance, Accountability and the Role of the Parliamentarian' took place at the Houses of Parliament, London. Chaired by UK Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, Rt Hon Baroness DeSouza, panellists outlined key issues surrounding reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health including: recent global initiatives like the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, the Commission on Information and Accountability (CoIA) and the Independent Experts Review Group (iERG) and pointed to how parliaments can use these and other processes to promote women’s and children’s health.

RMNCH speakers

Hon. Sylvia Ssinabulya, MP from Uganda noted that some parliaments are already quite engaged in the promotion of women’s and children’s health. The Ugandan parliament is very engaged with the issue -- so much so that Ugandan parliamentarians have in the past refused to approve the national budget until funds allocated to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health were increased. The Ugandan parliament has also held various sittings on women’s and children’s health and has worked with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to promote the issue globally.

United Kingdom - Rt Hon. Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, encouraged parliaments to reach out to donors and financial institutions directly to get a full view of disbursements.

Parliamentarians also noted the importance of taking a cross-sectoral approach to women’s and children’s health, notably through investing in social determinants of health and creating enabling legislation around these.

Hon. Kadidiatou Keita Korsaga MP from Burkina Faso noted that an improvement in girls’ education in Burkina is crucial to promoting knowledge about sexual and reproductive rights and best practices, encouraging pregnant women to participate in antenatal care and to deliver in health facilities and to reduce the frequency of harmful practices on women such as female genital cutting.

Professor Paul Hunt (University of Essex) recommended that parliamentarians use Global Strategy commitments made by states during the 2010 and 2011 September pledging events, to hold their governments to account. Noting that these commitments ‘are specific and measurable’ and made in public, Professor Hunt described these as one of the strengths of the Global Strategy process. Professor Hunt, pointing to a recommendation of the Commission on Information and Accountability encouraged parliaments to take the responsibility for establishing national accountability mechanisms to track progress on commitments related to women’s and children’s health and ensure that partners deliver on their engagements.

Assistant Director-General of World Health Organization, Dr Flavia Bustreo outlined the maternal and child health trends – pointing to the annual 7.6 million child deaths and 358 000 maternal deaths from preventable causes. Dr Bustreo pointed to the fact that three out of the six countries that contribute the most to maternal and child deaths –India, Pakistan and Nigeria - are part of the Commonwealth. She highlighted main causes of death for women and children, pointing to the low coverage of certain key interventions along the continuum of care and inequities in the provision of services. Pointing to recent global initiatives including the Global Strategy, the CoIA and its accompanying iERG.. While encouraging parliaments to “play their part” in accountability, she noted that the implementation of the CoIA would facilitate better oversight.

Parliaments are increasingly recognized as key players in the achievement of women’s and children’s health because of their role in developing and ensuring the implementation of an enabling legislative environment, the allocation of adequate funding for health, the development of comprehensive policies on health and the effective implementation of policy and budget priorities renders them crucial to the women’s and children’s health campaign.