What a Difference Ten Years Makes: Acting on the Call

Published on March 21, 2023

Karel Prinsloo/Jhpiego

by Tamar Abrams, Writer/Editor, MOMENTUM Knowledge Accelerator

Ten years can be the blink of an eye for a global development project or it can be the most important time in the life of one child. And when creating a strategy for improving the health of children living in the world’s poorest countries, ten years can be the difference between life and death.

Most of us would agree that improving the opportunity for every mother and newborn to survive and thrive is a top priority no matter where in the world you live. The global community responded to the challenge and, ten years ago this month, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) introduced the Acting on the Call Report. It outlined simple, cost-effective, evidence-based interventions which, if adopted, could save millions of children’s lives.

These efforts played a pivotal role in creating a global movement behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs outlined concrete, measurable targets to improve health globally, including two specific goals for preventing child and maternal mortality and a dozen others that were linked to improving the odds of survival for mothers and children. Building on this, USAID partnered with country governments to develop specific national action plans to drive annual progress toward these ambitious goals.

The results, ten years on, are promising. Since 2012, USAID has made it possible for:

  • 44 million women to give birth in a health facility;
  • 33 million newborns to receive care after birth;
  • 23 million people to gain access to basic drinking water; and
  • 14 million health workers to be trained in maternal and child health and nutrition.

In 2021 alone, USAID helped more than 91 million women and children access essential, often lifesaving, care.

Even so, in 2021, five million children died before they reached their fifth birthday, with newborns comprising half of those deaths. And the challenges to success keep coming: COVID-19, global conflicts, climate change, sexual and gender-based violence, poverty, and emerging childhood diseases. A focus on adequate nutrition, vaccinations, and the prevention and treatment of common childhood diseases could save countless children’s lives.

The USAID MOMENTUM project plays an integral role in seeking to accelerate reductions in the deaths of mothers, newborns, and children in some of the hardest-hit countries. Its six project partners focus on strengthening the capacity, sustainability, and resilience of local institutions ranging from health clinics and midwives to community health workers and faith-based leaders. Sustainable progress can only be made if the solutions to child survival challenges are developed by those who live in the affected communities.

MOMENTUM is working to ensure that children receive all their routine childhood immunizations, that midwives address gender-based violence with their patients, that newborns born with health issues are quickly identified and treated, and that women have access to family planning methods that they choose. This is done by supporting, training, and working alongside local partners who know their communities best.

This week, global leaders gathered in Washington, DC to celebrate Acting on the Call’s first decade and discuss plans for its second. Among the discussions were key approaches that will build on successes of the past ten years and lead to accelerated successes for the future:

  1. Anchor research in primary health care systems to optimize health outcomes;
  2. Reach the hardest-to-reach people and communities;
  3. Catalyze country commitments and mutual accountability;
  4. Invest in the health workforce as the foundation of health systems;
  5. Identify bottlenecks and tailor solutions through locally-led development; and
  6. Generate and use data, evidence, and learning for decision-making.

We must never forget as each day passes, as each year goes by, that for those of us working to “act on the call,”’ each success is measured in the life of a mother or a child. The price of even one failure is much too high to even contemplate.

At the Acting on the Call launch event this week, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced the new strategic framework for the next decade: one that focuses on coverage, equity, and quality. She ended her remarks with a strong call to action: “We have everything we need to end preventable maternal and child mortality in a generation. Let’s get to work.”

Watch the full event below.

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