Second Global Maternal Health Conference: Will it Set Itself Apart? Off to an Excellent Start

Second Global Maternal Health Conference: Will it Set Itself Apart? Off to an Excellent Start

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho is a pediatrician and serves as the Minister of Health of Rwanda. {Photo credit:}Photo credit:

The second Global Maternal Health Conference began yesterday in Arusha, Tanzania, as an intentional dialogue between scientists, researchers, implementers, advocates, policymakers, and media. More than 700 people (from about 2000 abstracts) were selected to attend and share knowledge on how to improve the quality of care and eliminate maternal deaths.

This is my first global maternal health conference --- but not my first maternal health conference. I keep wondering: how will this one be different?

As I went through the first day of sessions and informal exchanges, I couldn't help feeling like one person "stole the show". At lunch and dinner, the conversations kept coming back to the dynamic Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health from Rwanda. She served as the keynote speaker in the opening plenary and a panelist for another session.

When you hear Dr. Agnes speak, you know she is smart and accomplished. And, talking with other attendees, it is clear that, regardless if participants agreed with her specific recommendations, Dr. Agnes' commitment, knowledge, logic, and candor are appreciated and needed in the conference conversation.

Dr. Agnes' key points included:

  • Women’s dignity must be part of any strategy.
  • Listen to the patients and recipients, and respect their opinions.
  • A global health coordinator is needed for maternal health. This helped HIV, and, without the coordination, there are too many silos.
  • Addressing chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) doesn’t take away from other issues; it opens our eyes to the full picture of health.
  • Health financing and health insurance will help with maternal health by improving ambulatory care.

While Dr. Agnes’s recommendations were not new, what made her presence so powerful was her consistent voice in support of women, beyond just their maternal health needs, and her candor at speaking up for Africans. She even gently "called out” Richard Horton of the Lancet (in a very friendly way) for creating a Code of Ethics for publishing studies on Africa, without including Africans in the process.

I encourage you to check out the GHMC2013 conference website to watch Dr. Agnes’ presentations and the other sessions (videos will be available soon). For those new to maternal health, the sessions are easy to follow; and for those who are more seasoned in their maternal health knowledge, there are a number of proof points being shared.

I am reserving my full opinion on the conference until the end, but so far, the emphasis on multiple voices and knowledge sharing has gotten it off to an excellent start.

Crystal Lander is director of policy and advocacy at Management Sciences for Health.

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho is on Twitter

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I am encouraged about what happened in this conference and would wish to get a report about what some of the recommendations to alleviate maternal-child mortality were.

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