Meeting of SEAR-Technical Advisory Group on Women's and Children's Health

4-6 October 2017, New Delhi, India

Professor Vinod Paul, Chair of SEAR-Technical Advisory Group on women’s and children’s health, Distinguished TAG Members, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the second meeting of the SEAR-Technical Advisory Group with the representatives of ministries of health and partner organizations who have gathered here to improve survival, health and wellbeing of newborns, children, adolescents and women of the Region.

Our efforts have been to build upon the achievements in the final phase of MDGs during which we achieved 69% reduction in maternal mortality and 64% reduction in child mortality. In order to further accelerate mortality reduction with a sense of urgency we have identified ending preventable maternal, newborn and child mortality with a focus on neonatal mortality reduction as a Regional Flagship. For this, we are working closely with Member States and Partners in the Region to identify high impact actions. As you know, we have established a Technical Advisory Group of Global and Regional experts who provide technical guidance for identifying high impact approaches that country could use to achieve rapid reduction in maternal and child mortality focusing on newborn mortality. And towards that goal, the TAG recommendations have been very useful in galvanizing action in the Region.

Our Member States adopted the revised Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health at the 69th Regional Committee Meeting in September 2016. And countries have already started to align their national plans of action to the revised global strategy.

The new targets look ambitious requiring each country to reduce under-five mortality to at least 25 per 1000 live births and neonatal mortality to at least 12 per 1000 live births by 2030.

I am confident that the Region will be able to achieve these targets as the commitment of our Member States towards achieving the SDGs is not only strong, but truly commendable. My optimism is based on the tremendous progress seen in all Member States during the later years of the MDG phase.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Universal health coverage underpins the SDG-3, the health goal which is at the center of all 17 SDGs. Health of women, children and adolescents is pivotal to universal health coverage and is one of the top priorities of WHO at the highest levels, both globally and regionally. We are working with countries to progressively and rapidly improve the coverage of life-saving interventions for women, children and adolescents during the life-course and to reach all women, newborns and children in need, so that no one is left behind.

We have initiated quality improvement with initial focus on providing good quality care around the time of child birth to reduce or prevent maternal mortality, stillbirths and newborn mortality. WHO, along with partner agencies, has put forth a model for point of care quality improvement for mothers and newborns that enables healthcare teams to continuously improve quality of care in the health facilities. We are providing support to the countries for building capacity for quality improvement initially focusing on care of mothers and newborns at the time of birth.

I might hasten to add that much of the desired progress in universal coverage as well as quality of care will depend on whether we have adequate number of health workers on the ground with appropriate skill mix to attend to these needs. I urge countries to review their situation and, where needed, to invest in long term plans for human resource for health with particular attention to the RMNCAH services. As we focus on reduction in maternal, newborn and child mortality to reach the low levels of 2030 targets the role of professional midwives will be crucial to ensure that women receive high quality care with respect and dignity at the most critical time around the child birth.

Towards the third pillar of UHC, that is, financial protection we have advocated with countries to augment overall financing for health with adequate provisions for RMNCAH programmes and develop innovative solutions to protect the particularly vulnerable sections of women and children. We are supporting countries to enable them to take advantage of newer financing mechanisms such as the Global Financing Facility; Bangladesh and Myanmar are the two countries in that have done so. It is also important that countries use the existing funds from other global financing mechanisms such as GAVI Alliance and the Global Fund to strengthening health systems, apart from addressing their specific diseases of interest.

As you are aware the Global Strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health (2016-2030) has prominently included health of adolescents. There is sound public health basis and economic reasons for this increased attention to health of adolescents. Adolescent mortality may be relatively low but neither negligible nor is it declining as rapidly as in under-five children. Between 2000 and 2012, the global under-five mortality rate declined by 52%, whereas the adolescent mortality rate declined only 12%. Sound investment in adolescent health in countries to keep them healthy and productive will ensure the ‘demographic dividend’ towards the national development which is the main purpose of the SDGs. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appropriately expressed at the launch of the Global Strategy that “The updated Global Strategy includes adolescents because they are central to everything we want to achieve, and to the overall success of the 2030 Agenda.”

I understand that the last TAG recommendation was to have this TAG meeting to focus on strengthening adolescent health in the region. I am sure that deliberations on newborn mortality reduction and improving adolescent health will be very useful for countries to evolve local solutions based on country specificity. Jointly with partner agencies we are preparing Regional Strategic Guidance for taking actions for improving newborn and child health and also for adolescent health. In this meeting Member States and partners will have an opportunity to contribute their suggestions for finalizing these.

Distinguished delegates,

To reach the new 2030 targets enhanced political will and commitment will be needed in the countries at the highest level. I can assure that WHO and Partners will extend all the technical support for their efforts in this direction. For providing coordinated support to the countries for implementing the Global Strategy we have established H6 Regional partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA, UN WOMEN, UNAIDS and World Bank. I thank the representatives of these UN agencies and welcome those who are participating in this meeting.

I sincerely acknowledge the technical guidance provided by the members of the Technical Advisory Group over last two years and appreciate those have come from far and wide to attend this meeting. I am also thankful to the invited global and regional experts in adolescent health for their guidance towards strengthening adolescent health programmes in the Region.

I extend warm welcome to the national programme managers from ministries of health from the Member States and representatives from academia and professional associations. I would like to encourage the country teams to engage with the TAG members to prioritize country-specific high impact approaches for accelerating reduction in newborn mortality and overall implementation of Global Strategy. I am sure all of you together will be able to deliberate on critical issues and chalk out a realistic way forward.

I wish for a successful deliberation and look forward to the country teams taking effective actions based on the directions agreed in this meeting.

Please do enjoy your stay in New Delhi; the city has much to offer it has a rich mix of ancient cultures and modern outlook.

Thank you.