• Child and Maternal Health funding - it's kind of a big deal...

    Posted by Simon

    15 April, 2011

    There's big money in aid. Still not as much as there needs to be, when more than 1 billion people are still living in poverty and we spend more than six times the amount of money on military expenditure than poverty reduction. But compared to individual donors like you and me, it's big money all the same. Australia's foreign aid budget has doubled since 2005 and will double again over the next five years to hit an estimated $8-9 billion by 2015 (assuming the Australian Government holds to its promise of increasing foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income by 2015). Poverty is a big problem, so there needs to be big money in aid-but with Australia's total foreign aid budget increasing, what programs should this new funding focus on? In November, the Australian Government initiated an independent review of our nation's aid program to answer that exact question. The aid review gave individuals and organisations the chance to put forward their views. So in that spirit, here's my two cents: child and maternal health programs should top AusAID's priority list!

    With less than five years until the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), progress on MDG 4 (reduce Child Mortality) and MDG 5 (reduce Maternal Mortality) are lagging furthest behind target reductions. The fact is, too many children and mothers continue to die from causes that could easily be prevented with adequate health program funding in target nations. Despite this, Australia's foreign aid program has recently shifted focus away from aid for health, with a decrease of 10.6 per cent in real terms in the 2010/11 Federal Budget. This budget cut runs contrary to global donor trends and the growing consensus on the effectiveness of child and maternal health programs.

    The big deal
    Child and maternal health programs have runs on the board worldwide as one of the most effective development initiatives. They are usually low cost and high return investments. I work for Compassion Australia, an international Christian child development & advocacy organisation (and a Coalition partner of Micah Challenge), which works with approximately 1.2 million mothers and children worldwide. We are one of many non-government organisations providing vitamin A supplements, insecticide-treated bed nets, and vaccinations for children, as well as educating and supporting pregnant and post-natal mothers in critical intervention phases (such as childbirth) through our programs. Through its foreign aid budget, Australia supports multilateral and bilateral programs that also provide interventions like these as well as longer-term projects like training skilled birth attendants, midwives and anaesthetists, which boost quality of life and economic productivity. But the bottom line is that these initiatives help save lives: child deaths fell from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009, according to an estimation from the Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality.

    Some big moves
    For some, 2010 might have been the Year of the Tiger, but for the development world, it was the year of child and maternal health. Some big moves were made, including a new Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health and a new international alliance between the US, UK, Gates Foundation and Australia. But the Australian Government didn't get on board-it supported these new initiatives in principle, but didn't put money where our national mouth was and commit to new funding for child and maternal health.

    Our big opportunity
    This moment in time is our big opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of children and mothers in the developing world, if we just take advantage of the global momentum and effectiveness of child and maternal health programs. Micah Challenge, along with several of it's coalition agencies lodged a submission with the independent aid review. Both Micah Challenge and Compassion called for the Australian Government to make health a flagship priority within Australia's foreign aid budget by increasing health funding to 20 per cent of the aid budget by 2012/13. Children and mothers everywhere deserve the same high standards of healthcare that children and mothers in Australia enjoy. With the right global commitments and robust support from Australia, this is a reality within reach.

    The aid review is set to be handed down in April 2011.

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    Simon Massey works in Child Advocacy Relations for Compassion Australia and also serves on the Micah Challenge Campaign Strategy Group. This post is an extract from blogs previously published on Global Poverty Project blog and the Lowy Institute Interpreting the Aid Review blog .