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[GENEVA] Many challenges confront the health systems of developing countries, but it seems maternal and child health rank high on the agenda of many countries. 

The second day of the 67th World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland, last week (19-24 May) had experts from across the globe giving speeches on ways to promote health, especially those that affect women of reproductive age.

Christine Kaseba-Sata, the first lady of Zambia and WHO goodwill ambassador against gender-based violence, said health is at the heart of fighting gender and sexual violence and that governments has no choice but to adequately strengthen their health systems to effectively fight the menace.

“Evidence has shown that investing in the health of mothers and children produces direct results. Investing in health is the best of use of resources.”

Melinda Gates, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Kaseba-Sata said health systems provide an evidence-based approach to combat the menace, with health facilities the point at which medical-legal evidence and data enable not just the treatment, but also the enforcement of justice and redress for victims.

While observing that gender or sexual violence has become a public health issue, the former gynaecologist and medical scientist emphasised that national health systems must establish one-stop centres where psychological and medical treatment can be offered to victims.

“Campaigners must involve the youth and young people in taming gender-based violence by no other way than the use of modern tools of technologies [such as] mobile phone and social media,” said Zambia’s first lady

Melinda Gates, co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — a key financier of WHO programmes, particularly those related to maternal and child health — seemed to have been reading from the same script in as far as using technology and science goes in tac

kling challenges of public health, more so maternal and child health to cut deaths.

Gates cited five simple inventions recently published by WHO, including resuscitating babies immediately after birth using a simple bag and a mask, cleaning the umbilical cord with an antiseptic, breastfeeding a baby within the first hour after birth and continuing doing so for the first 18 months.

Another important intervention is to allow close skin contact between mother and child to let the infant get the mother’s bodily warmth, further helping cut deaths in children under one month of age.

Continued development of vaccines is critical for child survival and thankfully the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation she co-chairs with her husband will continue funding vaccine development and child survival programmes.

Finally it was not lost to Gates, a mother of three, that economic growth is linked directly to low mortality rates in infants.

“Evidence has shown that investing in the health of mothers and children produces direct results. Investing in health is the best of use of resources,” she concluded as the delegates applauded her.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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