It’s time for UHC and maternal and child health to find common cause

Midwife Catherine Ojo holds baby Samson at a hospital clinic in Zaria, Nigeria. (Photo: Jane Hahn/Panos for Save the Children)
Midwife Catherine Ojo holds baby Samson at a hospital clinic
in Zaria, Nigeria. (Photo: Jane Hahn/Panos for Save the Children)

I have always argued that Save the Children has a unique position. We have always championed building health systems rather than single disease approaches and challenged governments, multilaterals, donors and other NGOs to show that they are building sustainable and comprehensive health systems for the long-term. For this reason we are part of the movement for Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

We are also a key part of the movement for maternal and child health and a member of the Partnership for Maternal Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH). We focus on the rights of children most excluded and there is no greater injustice than being denied the chance to survive. We have always supported integrated approaches to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and welcome the expansion of this agenda to women, children and adolescents.

But often maternal & child health and UHC have seemed to be in competition. When the world has limited attention for development, there are competing views on what they should focus on.

A Common Cause

Our new report, co-published with PMNCH and launched at the Women Deliver Conference in a joint event with our partner GSK, seeks to bring together these two agendas – maternal and child health and Universal Health Coverage – and calls for them to be A Common Cause.

Although it seems obvious, we cannot achieve the large-scale improvements in women, children and adolescents’ health unless health services are available to every community, every day – the primary health care model. They need to be paid for and structured in ways that enable everyone to access services. We have to get rid of cash payments if we want to the poorest to use them. For this reason, everyone who cares about maternal and child health must make clear that they support UHC.

At the same time, UHC is often criticised as unrealistic, a fantasy that all services are instantly available to all people. Making clear that some services are so essential, so universally-needed, that they should be the priority helps make sure that UHC is seen as the movement through which large-scale change can happen. UHC needs to be built from the ground up with universal primary health care as the starting point.

We are at an exciting moment for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health. The Sustainable Development Goals have set an ambitious agenda to end all preventable maternal, child and newborn deaths. The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016–30), launched by the UN Secretary-General in September 2015, is set to galvanise action to make this a reality. We cannot achieve these through projects or single interventions.

 

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