White Ribbon Alliance

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It is in our hands now!

July 1, 2014

Rose Mlay, National Coordinator, The White Ribbon Alliance Tanzania

Pictured here with the Deputy Minister of Health, Tanzania

On Saturday June 28th I arrived into Johannesburg, South Africa for the #PMNCHLive conference. It has been so long since I was here last, and so much has changed in that time. As I stood beside the statue of Nelson Mandela in the new square of his name, the immensity of his passing ran through me. Such an iconic leader who changed so much must motivate us to know that ANYTHING is possible! As he said, it is in our hands now!

As I walked into the Sunday session of the NGO constituency of PMNCH, I got a great surprise to hear the words of the Chair of the PMNCH Board, Graça Machel! She gave such an impassioned rallying call for change – and I felt the power in her words – she called on our community to identity what needs to be done to drive faster progress on delivery of commitments to maternal, newborn and child health before 2015, while making sure that our approach is people centered.

I was so happy to hear these words, because this is exactly what we are doing in Tanzania. We have brought together the Government with the health workers, the charities, the community leaders and the media to define what our focus must be to accelerate progress. We collectively decided to push for the Government’s commitment to provide Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (CEmONC) in 50% of all health centres. We are focusing on the health centres because we know from the community leaders that we will save more lives if the services are closer to women – and 80% of births happen in the villages. We have collected the data to show that the gaps are huge. Communities have petitioned their politicians and we have engaged the Prime Minister who is directing the district leaders to budget adequately for CEmONC.

When I hear at the conference there is great need to invest in this capacity building of citizens to hold governments accountable, it really is so motivating! I am hopeful that such words will translate into much more investment in this work.

In our discussions we said that we are working more effectively to close the loops between global initiatives and national campaigns by exemplifying those campaigns at the global level – I saw some of this with the Every Newborn Action plan – for example in Tanzania, the ask to our Government from civil society on their commitment to ENAP was based on our specific campaign. This shows me that we are making good progress.

But we really must do more to make sure the call is as loud as it can be at every level on our leaders to deliver their commitments – we worked so hard to push our governments to make these commitments back in 2010, and we are working very hard at the national level to push for these promises to be kept – but we need a unified message at the global level to drive home that the world is watching in these last 500 days – and this is why I was excited yesterday about the energy in the room for the #Commit2Deliver platform and how we as civil society can strategize and plan to make sure our call is heard in this way.

Let us also push for civil society to have greater access to information. Much of the time we are called on to give anecdotal evidence into processes, but we do not see the results. Lately I was asked to feed in to the WHO accountability review for Tanzania, but I do not know the outcome. We must push for more transparency so that we can use this information to be better advocates.

I hope with the #Commit2Deliver platform we can make strong plans so we engage people we haven’t engaged with before, that we think creatively about how we exemplify the change we want to see – and above all, that we make the space and give the opportunities for the voices of the people who know what it is like to lose a loved one or a patient from a preventable death to speak to their leaders and world leaders on our issues. We have made great progress, but the pressure is not enough. I believe that so much can happen in 500 days - let us unite under #Commit2Deliver so that the most that can happen is achieved.

Following the #PMNCHLive conference, we are going to follow Graça Machel’s advice and push and push and push more on governments to deliver – all of us, let us be accountable so mothers and newborns can survive childbirth (Wajibika Mama Aisha!!!).