Seven days after my due date, I was more than ready to meet my first child. So when contractions started early one Sunday morning in December, I mostly felt excitement tinged with a little nervousness. I had made a commitment to myself that I would do my best to labor naturally and, like many women, I had chosen to deliver at a hospital with an obstetrician I trusted.
My son Will – all 9 lbs, 2 oz of him – was born healthy just after noon, but not in a way I expected. In an unforeseen rarity, Will and I were connected by an incredibly long umbilical cord: a meter (three feet) long, more than twice the normal size. A long cord isn’t necessarily a problem, but combined with an active little one in utero, it meant his cord was wrapped all over the place (including looped through itself, belt-like around his waist). The tangles of cord had led to severe drop in his heart rate, necessitating an emergency cesarean section. Otherwise, he likely would not have survived the stress of delivery.
Today, Will and I are both happy and healthy, and a few weeks ago I returned from maternity leave to my job at the United Nations Foundation. While I was on leave – blissfully enjoying his first smiles and coos – a special task team (including the UN, Sweden, and Botswana) released a new report as part of an important global dialogue that has the potential to get more women and children the kind of care that Will and I received.
In 2000, global leaders committed to a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce global poverty by 2015. Covering a broad set of issues, including health, the goals were meant to motivate leaders and donors to take action for the world’s poorest people – and it worked. Today, women around the world are more likely to survive pregnancy and childbirth, and children have a better shot at making it through their first five years of life.
But 2015 is only two years away and we need to do two things by then. First, we need to make as much progress as possible on the MDGs. Despite gains, we’re still not on track to reach the targets we set back in 2000. Second, we need to come up with a new set of goals to replace the MDGs. A set of time-bound, action-oriented goals is a powerful catalyst for progress – we cannot let the goals expire without a plan to replace them.
The United Nations is leading a multi-year process to come up with these new goals. A report of initial recommendations on health – based on dozens of conversations with experts, leaders, and citizens from around the world – was waiting on my desk on my first day back from maternity leave.
The report makes good sense. It says that we should have three global health priorities from 2015-2030. First, we should continue improving women’s and children’s health and continue fighting infectious diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. This is important because despite our best efforts over the next two years, there will still be work to be done in these areas. Second, we should address non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, currently account for two-thirds of global disease, but receive only a tiny fraction of global health funding. Prioritizing NCDs in the new goals would correct this imbalance. Finally, we should ensure that everyone, everywhere can access quality health care, no matter how rich or poor they are. In many places, women with my birth complication are denied emergency obstetric care either because they can’t afford it, or because the right expertise and equipment just isn’t available.
As I read through the report, my mind wandered to Will’s first day away from me. I hoped he was napping on schedule and checked my phone incessantly in case his caregiver had any questions or concerns. That’s when I realized two things: I am so very lucky to have Will around to worry about, and global leaders must agree on new goals that will continue progress on global health – not only for the sake of all the women who aren’t as lucky as I am, but for the kind of world I hope Will inherits.
On May 30, when a panel of leaders tapped by the UN Secretary-General releases their recommendations on next steps for the Post-2015 development framework. Then, in September, the Secretary-General will share his own thoughts with the UN General Assembly. See the full Health Consultation report here.
Kate Dodson is the Executive Director, Program Integration at the United Nations Foundation. Images used with her permission.