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Global strategy

Watch professor Joy Lawn discuss the health of women, children and adolescents and where they fit in the context of the SDGs.
JOY LAWN: Where do women and children fit in the Sustainable Development Goals, or the SDGs, which start from now and run to 2030? Well, to understand that, we also need to look back at the last 15 years at the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals– just eight goals– and of those, three were on health. And of those three, two were on women’s and children’s survival. Remarkable change– a doubling of the donor investment, high-level leadership from governments, and real change, partly driven by this philosophy that health was at the heart of development and led to economic development and wider change. Now we have a different world.
The Millennium Development Goals in many ways were probably written by a few economists in a room in New York, maybe white male economists, who believed in this discourse of health leading to development. Now, with a greater engagement, very correctly so, of the people most affected and the governments and countries that will be implementing these goals, we see the other side, the need for development and environment to take an important place. And this two-way street between health and development needs to go both ways.
So as we move forward to 17 goals with just one on health– and women’s and children’s health just being part of that one goal– we have a moment of risk and of opportunity, a moment at which the data and the evidence become more critical than ever, as we have seen during this course. This transition from MDGs, Millennium Development Goals, to Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs, comes at a moment when we’re moving faster than ever before for the survival of women and of children. It’s a moment of risk, but also of opportunity.
And if we look at how this progress has come about over the last 15 years– actually, it’s only really the last five years that we’ve seen major focus– and a lot of this has been driven by the UN Secretary-General’s own focus on a global strategy for every woman, every child. And as we move forward, this strategy is being renewed. This is really the only strategy that the UN Secretary-General lends his own name to, and this strategy will now be called for women and for children and adolescents. So as we go forward, we are really delighted to see, and the data really supports, raising adolescents up to this same level for women and children with adolescents.
And this global strategy, which starts from now, will have three key pillars– one, survive; two, thrive; and three, transform. And this course really supports those pillars. Survive– the need to end preventable, maternal, newborn and child deaths, and how that comes very critically also with reproductive rights and the need to look at family planning and every birth being wanted. So that’s important for survive. For thrive, we see the important aspect of child development, of a healthy start, of avoiding disability, but also for the woman, and particularly also for adolescents and the transition there. And finally, for transform– and this links to the wider societal change, environment, and education– the empowerment of girls and women.
And so as we go forward, this strategy and the evidence and data that we have in this course really supports a critical opportunity to move forward to improve survival, and to go beyond that to thrive, and to see transformation for women and children all around the world. You’ve made it all the way through this course, which suggests that this is something you already cared about, and we know from the interactions that we’ve seen that many of you are highly informed and highly involved. But what could we do differently, based on this data and evidence that we have been through? There are five things that we would like to highlight for you to consider. Firstly, to integrate.
And in thinking about that, maybe you started this course, and you’re particularly interested in one area. You’re a world expert on child nutrition or immunisation or safe abortion. We would appeal to you to consider using your expertise and your voice to think broadly also about women’s and children’s health. And in thinking about that, the numbers are much more compelling when we combine and include aspects that we often leave out– for example, 2.6 million still births. Secondly, to increase the voice of women. Women aren’t just targets of health-care interventions and behaviour change. Involving them and giving them their own voice is critical in everything that we do, and this is particularly notable for adolescents. Thirdly, to implement and to innovate.
Sometimes our advocacy messages say that we know just what to do, and we should do it. And I think this is better for Nike adverts than for what we do in health care. We need major focus on innovation to be able to implement at scale, and particularly to reach the poor. Research is still needed and is critical also in the delivery part of what we do. Fourthly, indicators.
And here, those programmes that have had the best coverage data– for example, immunisation and some of the infection causes of child death, where we’ve seen the greatest progress– have been driven by greater focus on their coverage data, and we need to improve this coverage, programmatic and data, around quality to be able to improve care. And finally and fifthly, it is really fundamental for change that we have an intentional approach to leadership. Leadership from the highest-burden countries is more essential now than ever. Having data and having evidence doesn’t lead to change.
It is people, and people like you who’ve taken this course, who have leadership skills, and who can bring leadership in others, that will bring the greatest change for women and children around the world. As we finish this course, we would like to thank all of you for participating so actively. And particular thanks to all the contributors, and notably those from the MARCH Centre here at the London School, with a special thanks to Dr. Tanya Marchant, our lead educator for this course.

Where does the health of women, children and adolescents fit in the context of the SDGs, and how does it link to global strategy?

Of the 17 new SDGs there is just one on health (Goal 3). Most targets explicitly reference economic development and the environment, with these factors placed as pre-requisites to better health, rather than as better health leading to a country’s development.

The transition from MDGs to SDGs means that priorities and commitments are being redrawn, but many national leaders across the world have stated their dedication to the health of women, children and adolescents and will keep them at the heart of the SDG agenda. Adolescents in particular, relatively absent from the MDGs, have now been included in the United Nation’s Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescents’ Health in achieving Goal 3 of the SDGs.

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Improving the Health of Women, Children and Adolescents: from Evidence to Action

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