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The SDGs Have Been Adopted and the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health Has Been Launched – Now What?

By Dr. Naveen Rao, Lead, Merck for Mothers

February 10, 2016

Earlier this fall, leaders from 193 nations convened in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the latest international effort to eliminate poverty and disease by 2030. The SDGs provide a framework for saving and improving the lives of billions of people around the world, including the nearly 300,000 women who still die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal mortality is prioritized under SDG 3.1, which calls for a global reduction in the maternal mortality ratio to 70 deaths per 100,000 live births – a sharp decline from the current ratio of 210.

This challenge is a tall order, but it's not impossible. Most maternal deaths are preventable, and over the last 25 years, we've seen a nearly 50% decline in the number of women who die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Thanks to the commitment of the global health community and national governments, we've made great strides in getting women the care they need.

Armed with this bold new target, how can the world ensure that every woman is able to give birth safely?

A perfect place to start would be the U.N.'s Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health – a roadmap to ensure that every newborn, mother and child not only survives, but thrives. This ambitious strategy outlines the interventions needed to end preventable deaths and the roles of everyone involved.

Of course, designing a comprehensive strategy is one thing, but implementing it is another. That's why our potential to save women's lives is less about lofty goals and more about our ability to come together with a shared mission and pooled resources to drive real impact for the women who need our help.

Fortunately, we have some success stories to guide us.

One example of how collaboration has already yielded impressive progress in maternal health is Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL). This is a five-year public-private partnership involving the U.S., Ugandan and Zambian governments, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Every Mother Counts, Merck for Mothers and Project C.U.R.E. SMGL's mid-initiative report revealed that maternal mortality has declined by 53% in target facilities in Zambia and 45% in target facilities in Uganda – remarkable outcomes in less than three years.

What was the secret to SMGL's rapid and dramatic success?

From the outset, the partnership has focused on leveraging each partner's unique strengths, allowing each organization to make a distinct contribution. Most critically, the partnership has strong in-country leadership from the Ugandan and Zambian governments and is supporting local communities as they take greater responsibility for improving the health of their mothers. SMGL has been careful not to impose a solution from the top down.

This collaborative approach has translated into specific and complementary roles for each partner: the Ugandan and Zambian governments, at the national and local level, are taking ownership of the program to ensure long-term impact; the U.S. government is building on its PEPFAR and U.S. Agency for International Development platforms to strengthen maternal and child health; ACOG is bolstering providers' clinical skills at public health facilities; Every Mother Counts is using its advocacy prowess to raise awareness and funds; Merck for Mothers is harnessing its business skills to help local private health providers improve the quality of their care and build their capacity to serve more women; and Project C.U.R.E. is leveraging its donation platform to secure needed medical equipment and supplies.

Individually, these efforts would have produced strong results; together they have been transformative.

As we enter a new era of development goals, we have much to be proud of – not least the millions of women whose lives have been saved thanks to 25 years of steady reductions in maternal mortality. But we also have much work left to do.

We have ratified the SDGs and launched the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health. Now what?

Let's learn from what's working. Let's move from goals and strategies to doing. Let's redouble our efforts to save women's lives through collaborative, innovative, on-the-ground action. This has been the source of our success to date and will be the driver of our progress for years to come.

Will you join us?

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Naveen Rao, MD Lead, Merck for Mothers

Dr. Naveen Rao leads Merck for Mothers, Merck's 10-year, $500 million initiative to reduce maternal mortality around the world. In this capacity, Dr. Rao is responsible for leveraging the company's science and business expertise to accelerate progress in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals and advancing Merck & Co., Inc. mission to improve and save lives.

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