Health Policy Planning and Management (HPPM) Department

If the unfinished business for women and children’s health during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era is to make headway in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) period, stakeholders need to emulate the ambition employed by their counterparts in the HIV response.

That argument was made by Prof Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) at the start of the INDEPTH Network’s Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) metrics design workshop in Kampala. The theme of the three day meet is “Improving Household Survey Modules for Measuring Pregnancy Outcomes.”

“If you look at the HIV world, when the 3 by 5 initiative was launched, there was no data for antiretroviral therapy. But within 2 to 3 years most of the countries involved in the rollout were able to get some estimates of coverage,” Prof. Lawn noted. “The ambition to change the data went with the ambition for scale up. In maternal and newborn health, we have failed to be ambitious enough. We spend a lot of time complaining about the data and not enough time discussing where we need to be and what needs to be done.”

Inside the context of ENAP, Prof. Lawn argued that in order to realise the desired changes by 2030, bettering measurement outcomes cannot wait until then because it would be late. “We need that data to be better by 2020 so that we have ten years to use the data to drive change. So we really need a sense of urgency.”

With health no longer occupying the privileged position it did during the MDG era, the professor who also heads the Centre for Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child Health at LSHTM, urges countries to frame maternal and newborn health data to what politicians care about and for which they could be held accountable.

JL left

Similarly, while officiating at the start of the meeting, Associate Prof. Freddie Ssengooba who heads the Health Policy Planning and Management department at the Makerere University School of Public Health, said before influencing policy there was need to understand the politics that usually surrounds data, citing the demographic health surveys especially in the developing world.

“There are many wars around data now. These wars sometimes are fought in the field where data is collected, but sometimes they are fought when data has been collected,” said Prof. Ssengooba. “In our part of the world each time the DHS results come up there is a lot of interesting politics around the data. So we are beginning to understand whether what we get in the public domain is science or science plus politics.”

None-the-less, Prof. Ssengooba commended the INDEPTH Network’s maternal and newborn technical working group for bringing together health and demographic surveillance sites from five countries come up with better protocols around maternal and newborn outcomes, in alignment with the global development agenda. “We have just moved from the MDGs and now struggling to see what we can fit into the Sustainable Development Goals.”

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