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AU summit must focus on all eight MDGs

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Source: Daily Monitor (Uganda)

The 15th Ordinary African Union summit is on in Kampala with a timely theme, “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”. The choice of the theme for the summit being held just five years to the end of the set deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) could not have had better timing than 2010.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister once said, “You can tell the condition of a nation (I add, continent) by looking at the status of its women”. To spur consistent development, African leaders must focus on all the eight MDGs with a close linkage to women and children. The linkages are briefly described below.

Goal 1 was set to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. There is a clear link between female economic empowerment, food security and reduced prevalence of underweight and other forms of malnutrition in under 5s. Household poverty disproportionately affects the woman right from preconception, during pregnancy and post-delivery. This affects decision making and negotiating capacity regarding family planning, seeking ante-natal care, and where to deliver from.

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In Uganda, target 3 of goal 1 is to halve the number of people suffering hunger measured by determination of underweight in under 5s. It reduced from 22 per cent to 20.4 per cent (down by 1.6 per cent points) in 7 years from 2000 yet the target is 12.5 per cent, while poverty head count reduced from 38.8 per cent to 31.1 per cent (down by 7 points). This clear mismatch is due to the slower rate at which women are moving out of the poverty bracket indirectly slowing the rate of malnutrition reduction.

Improving the economic status of women will therefore indirectly and significantly improve indicators under goal 1. Goal 2 and 3 which aim to achieve universal primary education and promotion of gender equality and women empowerment respectively, largely relate the girl-child education, and the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector.

Female education has a direct proportionate relationship with her health status and that of her children, reducing infant/child ill-health and death, reducing maternal morbidity and death and generally the well-being and health status of the household. Educated women are more likely to seek family planning services, deliver with skilled health care assistance, and easily recognise and respond to signs of child sickness. Female education also increases the chances of a woman’s employment for wage.

In terms of proportionality of girls to boys at all levels of education, Uganda has significantly done well, and maybe well on course to achieve much of MDG 2 and 3.

Despite the contraction, current government pace in investment in education and stressing gender proportionality at all levels is a good “vaccine” against maternal, infant and child morbidity and mortality in the long term and all efforts should therefore be supported by the AU summit. Goal 4, 5 and 6 are intended to directly reduce or influence child and maternal ill-health and mortality.

The immunisation rates against measles for one-year-olds having increased from 56.8 per cent in 2000 to 85 per cent in 2008 (the target is 90 per cent), Uganda is on course for this target. This has, however, not proportionately resulted in the reduction in infant mortality rate which currently stands at 76 deaths per 1,000 live births down from 88.4/1,000 live births 10 years ago which is way below the target of 31/1,000 live births.

For goal 5 of improving maternal health, birth attendance by skilled health personnel is one of the indicators to monitor. Yet, in 10 years from 2000, it has improved by only three percentage points, while the target is 48 percentage points away from reach! Are there pertinent factors influencing the push-and pull factors of mothers to be delivered by skilled personnel that will need to be tackled by the current summit?

Goal 6 aims at combating diseases that disproportionately affect women and children. In Uganda, just over 50 per cent of persons living with HIV/Aids are women, which increase child orphanhood rates, and malaria kills about 100 children everyday. Therefore, investing resources to fight these diseases will improve the health of women and children, and will spur development.

Goal 7 aims at achieving environmental sustainability—sustainably using forests and other natural resources, and improving access to safe water and sanitation. Women and children carry the burden to move long distances in search of safe water and firewood. This indirectly ‘eats’ up productive time that would otherwise be useful for an income activity. Also the use of wood fuel for household activities is affecting forest cover.

Improving access to improved water sources will directly and indirectly affect the health of women and children and ensure environmental sustainability. At the current 58.5 per cent rural access to improved water coverage and a target of 62 per cent, we may be on course.

Lastly, Goal 8 aims at developing a global partnership for development. This mainly relates to debt servicing, international trade and financial management. The case of the “AGOA girls” is illustrative. It provided employment and skills and therefore improved income and thus improving the health of those employed and their children.

The AU summit, in its week long proceedings, should focus on all the MDGs collectively with particular attention to the impact they have on the girl child, women and children to spur development in Africa.