Improving Maternal and Child Health: The Need for Leadership at All Levels

By Dr. Diana Nambatya Nsubuga, Africa Co-Chair, Universal Health Coverage & Deputy Country Director, Community Health Partnerships, Living Goods Uganda

Women and children are often the most likely in their communities to suffer adverse health outcomes. It is estimated that 295,000 women and 5.9 million children under the age of 5 die annually from largely preventable causes. These numbers are expected to rise, as many countries are experiencing a disruption in essential health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from Somalia, Mali, and Liberia shows up to a 40% reduction in services including childhood immunization, antenatal care and safe childbirth.

Strong leadership can counteract these trends and set a positive policy framework that’s supportive of high impact practices, including community health, to enable women and children to access the health services they need. Parliamentarians and their staff play an important role in ensuring that women and children are not left behind—by enacting supportive legislation, approving budgets and mobilizing resources, ensuring government accountability and transparency, and enacting the national implementation of global commitments. In short, Parliamentarians and their staff have the power to remove barriers to health and develop laws that support equal access to health care.

“The parliamentarian administration is the backbone of the institution that provides support for political decisions to be made on the basis of facts and accurate research,” said Martin Chungong, Secretary General Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Recognizing the influence of parliamentarians, Living Goods collaborated with the World Health Organization, the Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Countdown to 2030, and the African Population and Health Research Center to host a series of webinars.

“This webinar series targeted at parliamentary staff aimed to build the capacity of parliaments as institutions to address women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health. This approach, which was very welcome by participating staff, we hope will over time foster better knowledge of and practices aimed at improving health outcomes for women, children and adolescents,” said Kadidiatou Touré, Technical Officer at PMNCH. Attended by 120 participants, the webinars provided critical information and a space to exchange information across countries in order to support national parliaments to strengthen action and improve access to health for women, children and adolescents. The webinar covered topics ranging from understanding women’s, children’s and adolescent’s health to strategies necessary for creating a supportive legislative environment with a corresponding budget.

“By bolstering the capacity of parliamentarian staff, knowledge and skills are able to be retained during turnover in leadership. This sets the stage for sustainable gains for women, children and adolescents,” noted Helga Fogstad, Executive Director of PMNCH.  And while the landscape of health may be changing in many countries experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, having stable support for essential health services formalized in legislation and budget commitments will help ensure the most vulnerable will still be able to access the health they need.

Watch all three webinars in the series online here:


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