Over the years as an MEP I have actively campaigned for funding to improve maternal health, specifically to prevent deaths in childbirth. The Green Party has long backed a tax on currency speculation, like the Robin Hood Tax, precisely to raise finance from bank levies to help support measures such as this.
As the new coalition government explores the idea of bank levies it is important that it ensures that the most vulnerable are not forgotten, and that the issue of maternal and child health are not ignored in these difficult economic times.
I will be following developments at the second international meeting of Women Deliver that opens in Washington, USA this week (7-9 June) with interest. Until a month ago achieving the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality seemed unlikely, despite all our efforts, but new evidence is showing that we have made a difference. Maternal deaths have fallen by more than 35 per cent in the last 30 years, thanks in part to improvements in funding this work.
Does this mean we have cracked the problem? Sadly not. The situation is still bleak for so many women. Between 350,000 girls and half a million women die from pregnancy-related causes every year and almost all of these deaths occur in the developing world. That’s ten million women ‘lost’ in every generation.
Longstanding inequalities make it much harder for girls and women to access healthcare. Family planning services, quality care for pregnancy and childbirth and access to safe abortion services are essential if women are to avoid the risk of death from pregnancy-related causes.
HIV and AIDS is a major contributor to maternal deaths, and children whose mothers are living with HIV and become ill are three times more likely to die. The good news, however, is that the response to HIV is providing some solutions to further reducing maternal deaths.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance, for example, works to support local communities around the world tackling HIV and AIDS, and their own experience demonstrates that by providing both HIV and reproductive health services in the same room, the uptake of both services can increase.
In South Sudan the Alliance has trained health workers to provide HIV testing and treatment to women in antenatal clinics and provide advice on prevention of mother to child transmission. In India women can get contraceptives and collect ARVs at the same time, and don’t have to worry that people know they have HIV.
Integrating HIV testing and care into routine ante-natal care also means women diagnosed with HIV can be fast-tracked into programs that provide holistic care, including antiretroviral treatment, to keep a mother healthy and reduce transmission of the virus.
And it is HIV positive women who are most often ‘forgotten’ in the maternal healthcare debate - denied their sexual and reproductive health rights often due to stigma and discrimination. Too many mothers living with HIV die because the prevention of parent to child transmission, maternal health and follow up for HIV care and treatment are simply not joined up.
So how do we move forward? We need to tackle the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV together. Unless the experts in sexual and reproductive health, including maternal and child health and HIV work together, progress will continue to falter.
We must ensure that we are meeting the funding commitment to reach these three Millennium Development Goals, despite this period of economic austerity. With a Robin Hood Tax, we can provide revenue to make this a reality.
Without continued focus we will lose the gains we have made so far and women and children will continue to die unnecessarily. That will be a scandal.
Caroline is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. Caroline previously served as an MEP. Her professional background includes research and policy analysis on trade, development, and environment issues for a major UK development agency. She is an acknowledged expert on climate change, international trade and peace issues.Caroline was voted Politician of the Year in the Observer Ethical Awards in 2007 and 2009, and was also named as one of the Guardian’s ‘Top 50 eco heroes’ in January 2008.