“Sharing Knowledge and Lessons Learned from Irish Aid Funded Maternal and Child Health Programmes”
12th September 2017 at 14.00
Albert Theatre, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here to address this event. It provides a valuable opportunity to learn from the research and evidence in the area of maternal and child health. It indicates to me the level of commitment within the Irish development community to addressing global health issues and a willingness to continually improve our approaches. Our work does matter and it effects people’s lives. We therefore have a clear obligation to constantly research, evaluate, learn, and apply lessons in order to improve the quality of our work.
Let me first start by thanking the Irish Forum for Global Health and the Royal College of Surgeons, for convening this important event.
I am delighted that we are joined today by Breda Gahan from Concern Worldwide, Magnus Conteh from World Vision Ireland and Brynne Gilmore of the Centre for Global Health – all of whom will speak today.
The importance my Department places on health, HIV and AIDS and education is rooted in our Foreign Policy and our policy for International development - as a key component of our strategy to work towards a fairer world. Both of these policy statements recognise and reaffirm the importance of providing essential public services as a critical requirement for development. They highlight the need to improve access to these services for vulnerable people including those affected by HIV and AIDS, and of strengthening the capacity of health systems.
Our commitments in these areas are fully aligned with and compliment Sustainable Development Goal 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
It is also important to acknowledge the inter-connected nature of the SDGs. If we are to achieve targets in health we will have to work across sectors in areas such as education, gender equality, and nutrition. When we see that malnutrition is a contributing factor in almost half of child deaths, we can really begin to see how we need to work across disciplines to bring about real and lasting change. We can see this reflected in the approaches taken by World Vision and Concern, with interventions across nutrition, health, community empowerment and sanitation included in their programmes to bring about improved maternal and child health outcomes.
At their heart, the SDGs are about reducing inequalities, improving people’s lives, and working in partnership is the best way to achieve this.
Maternal and Child Health is a policy area where the differences and inequalities between the developed world and the developing world remain particularly stark. While we have seen large reductions in maternal mortality worldwide, it remains shocking to me that 99% of maternal deaths take place in the developing world, and that most of these deaths are preventable.
My Department supports maternal and child health though three distinct channels - support to global initiatives; bilateral programmes, and support to civil society organisations. With this approach we see ourselves as a “Global-Local” actor.
In maternal and child health we engage at the global level with multilateral organisations such as the Vaccine Alliance, and the UN Population Fund. This in turn complements our work bilaterally in Ireland’s Key Partner Countries.
Ireland is making significant investments in the health sectors in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. In Ethiopia in particular, we have a strong focus on maternal health, at both Federal and Regional levels. We also support NGOs such as Concern and World Vision to deliver health interventions through the Irish Aid Programme Grant. This approach as a “Global-Local” actor allows us to learn from work on the ground in partner countries and use them to inform our policy and engagement with global programmes.
In Uganda, one of our key partner countries, there has been a 50% decline in maternal mortality between 1990 and 2015. This is a significant achievement. However as the maternal mortality ratio in Uganda still remains over 40 times higher that here in Ireland sustained effort is much needed.
In Tanzania we have seen the maternal mortality ratio increase over the 2010 to 2015 period, a reminder that we cannot be complacent in our work.
Similarly, children in Sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of five compared to developed countries. The fact that more than six million children die every year before reaching their fifth birthday is a grim reminder of the work that still lies ahead of us. In Sierra Leone, under-five mortality remains one of the highest rates in the world, and is 30 times the rate we see in Ireland. Sierra Leone has also shown us the impact that an outbreak of a disease like Ebola can have on countries with weak health systems. This reinforces the need for continued work in areas such as human resources for health.
As we implement the Sustainable Development Goals, it is vital that we address inequities and inequalities, as we see in the case of maternal and child mortality. It is only through partnership that we can do this. The work carried out by partners as we see here today, with support from Irish Aid, highlights what can be achieved by working together. Today we have representatives from NGOs, from academia, and from Government here in partnership to learn from experience and research. We have an obligation to bring these lessons learned forward to inform and influence the way we work as development actors.
The Centre for Global Health in Trinity has been leading research into global health in Ireland for many years, and working with NGOs, governments and other agencies to translate this research into action. In many cases it is the research produced by academia and NGOs that drives policy discussion and change. Closing the 'know-do’ gap in global health is vitally important, and we will see today how research feeds into programme development.
Research and evidence is the back bone of policy making, informing us, challenging us, and always asking us to reflect on what we can do better. It’s in that light that we’re here today, to learn from the experiences of our NGO partners, and from research developed by global health practitioners in academia. I myself look forward to increasing my own knowledge and learning from your work, and seeing the impact that Irish Aid funded programmes have on people’s lives. I look forward to working with you all in my current role, and working in partnership to overcome the challenges that we face.
I would like to thank the Irish Forum for Global Health for the invitation to speak here today, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland for hosting this event, in the wonderful setting of the Albert Hall. I would also like to thank Professor Hannah McGee and Professor Ruairi Brugha for the welcome here today.
Looking ahead I can assure you that Ireland, through our development cooperation programme, will continue to work with partners, such as yourselves, to address these challenges. This is important not only in ensuring that the least developed countries in particular have the means and know-how to provide for their citizens but also to enable long-term sustainable development and the elimination of poverty. It is central to our commitment to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger in our world.