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Learning From Success: Ministers of Health Discuss Accelerating Progress in Maternal Survival

On April 23rd Ministers of Health of Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Rwanda discussed the drivers of successful maternal health programs and how such efforts can be accelerated and sustained throughout the developing world.

Date & Time

Apr. 23, 2012
3:00pm – 5:00pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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“The gains we have made [in reducing maternal mortality rates] are remarkable; however, gains are fragile and donor resources are declining. Substantial investments must be maintained to safeguard these hard-wins,” said Afghanistan Minister of Health Suraya Dail on April 23.

As part of the Wilson Center’s Global Health Initiative, the Advancing Dialogue to Improve Maternal Health series partnered with the United States Agency for International Development to co-host Minister Dail, along with Honorable Dr. Mam Bunheng, Minister of Health, Cambodia; Honorable Dr. Bautista Rojas Gómez, Minister of Health, Dominican Republic; and Dr. Fidele Ngabo, Director of Maternal and Child Health, Ministry of Health, Rwanda.

These ministers spoke about the lessons learned in countries where there has been tremendous progress under challenging circumstances.

In the Dominican Republic, Bautista Rojas Gomez said the first challenge was to address the “Dominican paradox,” where maternal mortality rates were high despite the fact that 97 percent of women received prenatal care and delivered in hospitals. The government created a zero tolerance policy that included a comprehensive surveillance system, mandatory maternal death audits, and community oversight of services, which assured better quality services.

Similar political commitment improved indicators in Cambodia, where maternal mortality rates dropped from 472 to 206 per year from 2005 to 2010. “It takes a village…and the prime minister has inspired the country to act,” said Mam Bunheng. Through increased access to contraception the number of children per woman went from seven to three and commitment to family planning, education, technology, infrastructure, and community have been the key drivers of success.

“In Rwanda, the big challenge we are having is education,” said Fidele Ngabo. “Many of the maternal health indicators depend on education.” When women and girls are educated they are twice as likely to utilize modern contraception. The efforts of Rwanda’s government have been instrumental in facilitating positive change, he said, particularly the efforts of First Lady Jeannette Kagame, who he called a “champion” for women and girl’s health.

As witnessed throughout the Advancing Dialogue to Improve Maternal Health series – and reiterated by the ministers of health – the interventions to improve maternal mortality rates exist, what’s left is to generate the needed political willpower.

By Calyn Ostrowski, program consultant, Global Health Initiative, 202-691-4341


Hosted By

Maternal Health Initiative

Life and health are the most basic human rights, yet disparities between and within countries continue to grow. No single solution or institution can address the variety of health concerns the world faces. By leveraging, building on, and coordinating the Wilson Center’s strong regional and cross-cutting programming, the Maternal Health Initiative (MHI) promotes dialogue and understanding among practitioners, scholars, community leaders, and policymakers.  Read more

Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more

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