Conference Theme

' World Health Organization

The theme of the meeting will be "Improving Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health in Africa." It is anticipated that the conference will attract upwards of 200 participants including politicians, high-ranking government policymakers and representatives of university and research institutions, the donor community, the private sector, and the media.

The need for dispassionate scientifically-based research and policy advice for improved maternal and child health in Africa is particularly critical. Of all health data monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality shows the greatest disparity between high-income and low-income countries as well as between rich and poor within these countries. Each year, more than half of all the 540,000 women worldwide who die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth1, and up to the 20 million more who suffer serious life-long disabilities2 are in the sub-Saharan region alone. (UNICEF). The lifetime risk of a woman in sub-Saharan Africa dying of a pregnancy related cause is one out of 22 women, compared for instance to the 1 out of 8,000 women in more industrialized countries. More than half of four million newborn babies that die each year in the first week of life and about the same number stillborn ' i.e. dying in utero in the last three months of a pregnancy3 also occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation in this region is therefore most challenging.

Two out of the eight Millennium Development Goals are exclusively targeted towards maternal and child health, and the next several years will be crucial in accelerating achievement of MDG-4 and MDG-5, which call for a 75 percent reduction in child and maternal mortality, respectively, by 20154. Maternal health is also closely linked to the achievement of several other MDGs5. MGD-4 and MDG-5 were further reaffirmed in 2005 when the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health was launched, a global consortium aimed at reducing maternal mortality and integrating safe motherhood with newborn and child health initiatives. The successful experiences of some countries ' Sri Lanka, Honduras, Vietnam and Bangladesh ' show that rapid improvement is possible even in poor countries and suggest that the goals of MDG-4 and MDG-5 are attainable.

By focusing on improving maternal and child health, the conference will be an important opportunity to bring together top US and African researchers and policymakers to discuss the nature of on-going maternal and child health-related challenges in Africa as well as possible new policy directions. The major objectives of the conference will be:

  • To assemble the best scientific talent to report on the latest key trends in maternal, newborn, and child health in Africa;
  • To raise awareness about the remaining maternal and child health challenges facing the region;
  • To engage senior African policymakers and planners from around the region in dialogue on the above issues and to discuss possible policy directions;
  • To raise awareness of the value of science generally in informing national development strategies
  • To explore the potential for African academies of science to provide additional support to national policy formation in this area; and,
  • To support the general development of African academies of science.
This conference will be an important opportunity to build on the findings and recommendations of recent international conferences such as the 2007 Women Deliver conference in London and to translate them to the African context as well as an opportunity to explore the potential future contribution that African academies of science can make towards supporting their own national governments' efforts to attain these worthwhile goals.

1Hill K, Thomas K, AbouZahr C, Walker N, Say L, Inoue M, Suzuki E. 2007. "Global Estimates of Levels and Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2005." The Lancet. 370(9595):1311-9.
2Ashford L. 2002. "Hidden Suffering: Disabilities from Pregnancy and Childbirth in Less Developed Countries." , DC: Population Reference Bureau.; Murray CJL and Lopez AD, eds. 1998. Health Dimensions of Sex and Reproduction: the Global Burden of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV, Maternal Conditions, Perinatal Disorders, and Congenital Anomalities. Boston: Harvard University Press.
3 Lawn JE, Cousens S, Zupan J. 2005. "4 million neonatal deaths: When? Where? Why?" The Lancet. 365:891-900.
4Wagstaff A and Claeson M. 2004. The Millenium Development Goals for Health: Rising to the Challenges. , DC: The World Bank.
5Filippi V, Ronsmans C, Campbell OMR, Graham WJ, Mills A, Borghi J, Koblinsky M, Osrin D. 2006. "Maternal health in poor countries: the broader context and a call for action." The Lancet. 368(9546):1535-41.

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