UN and Ministry of Health appeal for investment in women’s health

The Ministry of Health and United Nations in Vietnam vowed to continue investment in women’s health and ensure continued progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals despite the recent global economic crisis, in an appeal at a press briefing today

The appeal is made o­n the occasion of the 2009 World Population Day with the theme ‘Responding to the Economic Crisis: Investing in Women is a Smart Choice’.

At the press briefing, Bruce Campbell, Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), o­n behalf of the United Nations Country Team in Vietnam, said that investments in education and health for women and girls had been linked to increases in productivity, agriculture yields, and national income. There is no smarter investment, with such high economic and social returns, than investing in the health and education rights of adolescent girls and women.

He emphasised: “We all know that the global economic crisis is hitting developing countries hard. It threatens to push 200 million people in the world back into poverty, and experience has shown that women and girls suffer disproportionately during times of crisis such as this. To protect their rights, we are here today to call for continued investment in women and renewed efforts to ensure progress towards achievements of MDGs”.

In addition to the recoded achievements, we are also confronting huge challenges – a large population size, about 86.5 million people, making Vietnam the 13th most populous country in the world; an unstable declined birth rate yet; high population density (257 people/km2) at six times the world average; imbalance of sex ratio at birth (112 males/100 females); rapidly increasing migration, expanding and complicated population mobility – Dr Nguyen Ba Thuy.

According to Dr. Nguyen Ba Thuy, Deputy Minister of Health and General Director of the General Office for Population and Family Planning, Vietnam is acknowledged by the United Nations as o­ne country making much progress in achieving MDGs, including MDG 5 (maternal health) to reduce the maternal mortality ratio to 60 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2010.

But, many challenges remain in achieving maternal health targets. Maternal mortality ratio may be lower but a large difference remains between regions, he said, adding that family planning services are falling short of demand, especially for young people while the reproductive health care and family planning programme lacks a close tie with the programme for sexually transmitted diseases control, particularly HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Nguyen Ba Thuy stressed: “In the immediate, our collective efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) must remain a priority. We must join forces to advance women’s empowerment and ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Reproductive health services are key to protecting the health of women, mothers and their children”.

Mr. Bruce Campbell also shared his views with Dr. Nguyen Ba Thuy about the importance of achieving MDG 5 o­n maternal health. He said: “If we do not reduce tragic and unnecessary maternal deaths and guarantee access to reproductive health, we will not achieve the other MDGs”.

In his opinion, to maintain the momentum towards achieving MDG5, three things are needed.


Millennium Development Goal:

- Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio

- Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health

Viet Nam's Goal (SEDP 2006-2010):

- Reduce the maternal mortality rate to 60 per 100,000 live births by 2010 with special attention to remote and disadvantaged areas

· Improve postnatal health of mothers


He went o­n: “First, resources must continue to be devoted to enhancing the quality of safe motherhood services for ethnic minority people in remote and mountainous areas. We need to pay special attention to ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups. We need data, robust monitoring and evaluation. And we need better co-ordination and harmonisation between partners to increase efficiency gains and maximise the impact of our investments.

Secondly, it is essential to strengthen and improve the knowledge, skills and attitudes among service providers of maternal health and newborn care. The priority should be given to skilled attendance at delivery with a strengthened referral system to a centre which can provide comprehensive care, including emergency obstetric and new born care. With universal access to these critical reproductive health services, maternal death and disability could be reduces dramatically.

Thirdly, to save women’s lives, we need strong leadership at all levels. We need increased spending for women’s health in national budgets, and where gaps are identified, we need increased international development assistance”.

We know from other countries’ experiences from previous crises that decreased investments in health took longer and require more resources to get back to the pre-crisis level of health standards. We can not allow this to happen in Vietnam, he stressed.

Every year, the world loses an estimated US$15 billion in productivity because half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth, and four million newborns do not survive. It would cost o­nly US$6 billion to provide the health services needed to save these lives (UNFPA 2008). Most maternal deaths could be prevented through universal access to reproductive health. Health systems need to be strengthened to provide family planning, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric care. This would not o­nly save lives, but also improve world productivity.

Globally, the total cost for reproductive health, including family planning and maternal health components, is estimated to be US$23.5 billion in 2009, and will reach an estimated US$33 billion in 2014 and 2015. These seem like large amounts, but they are minor investments compared to financial bailouts that have been distributed in the last few months. Such investment would promote health, and boost productivity and economic growth.

By Truong Son