US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday the United States would provide $75 million (60.5 million euros) to a private-public effort to improve the health of mothers and their babies in developing countries.
Norway, the host of an international conference focusing on maternal health, said it would join the United States by adding another $80 million to the initiative dubbed “Saving Mothers, Giving Life.”
“It doesn’t focus on a single intervention, but on strengthening health systems to protect mothers when they’re most at risk — during labour, delivery and the 24 hours after birth,” Clinton told the conference.
She said the initiative was beginning with projects in Zambia and Uganda, and would take the most effective lessons drawn from those experiences and apply them in other countries.
The initiative draws from both funds and the experience from the US international AIDS response programmes to focus on what proponents say is a key health care challenge with broad implications for societies as a whole.
Countries that have upgraded their health systems have seen maternal mortality rates drop dramatically, while in countries where health care systems have crumbled, maternal mortality rates have shot up, she said.
“Maternal health has value in its own right, and is also deeply connected to a broader purpose: achieving the strong health systems that will help developing countries improve life for more of their people,” Clinton said.
“If you want to know how strong a country’s health system is, look at the well-being of its mothers.”
She stressed that countries must eventually take ownership of their health systems even when they require help from outside.
“We are helping to build clinics and labs, train staff, improve supply chains, make blood supplies safer, set up record-keeping systems — in short, we are creating platforms upon which partners can eventually launch their own efforts,” she said.
Clinton’s call came on the second day of a Scandinavian tour she has used to praise the work of key US partners in a range of global hotspots.
“We don’t have any problems we are confronting, we don’t have any difficult issues we are negotiating. But we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Clinton said earlier in a toast to Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
Clinton, who met earlier with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and paid a courtesy call to King Harald V, has used her visit here and to Denmark Thursday to express appreciation for the role the two NATO allies have played in Afghanistan.
But the trip, which will take her to Sweden over the weekend, has also been overshadowed by US tensions with Russia over its defence of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the face of continuing bloodshed there.
In Copenhagen, she accused Moscow of propping up the Assad regime, helping to push Syria toward a destabilising civil war, and said she would be paying particular attention to Russia in her talks over the next several days.
“We have to bring the Russians on board because the dangers we face are terrible,” Clinton said.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Moscow would not yield to pressure on Syria.
Besides Syria, Clinton has also spotlighted cooperation with the Scandinavian countries on the environment, including climate change and clean energy, and development issues.
After her meetings, she was to travel to Tromsoe, a city on the Arctic Circle, to discuss the effects of climate change in the potentially energy-rich region.
After Scandinavia, Clinton travels to the Caucasus with stops in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan before winding up the nine-day trip in Turkey.
[US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Global Health Conference at Oslo City Hall. AFP Photo/Saul Loeb]