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Millions of lives can be saved if African leaders keep health promises, say charities

African leaders must stick to their pledges on maternal and child health at the recent African Union (AU) Summit, urge aid agencies.

If set in motion immediately, the plans could save the lives of millions of African women and children, said a charity coalition including Oxfam International and Save the Children.

The coalition yesterday urged African countries to make good over the so-called Abuja target by investing 15 per cent of their national budgets in healthcare. It also stressed the importance of hiring more community health workers across the continent.

Since it was originally made in 2001, only six countries: Botswana, Rwanda, Niger, Malawi, Zambia and Burkina Faso are currently meeting this target.

Oxfam’s Desire Assogbavi praised the progress made at the summit, but noted that only 10 per cent of the union’s decisions are put into practice effectively.

Mr Assogbavi recommended bringing in "comprehensive tracking and monitoring mechanisms" to make sure the union meets its promises.

"African people are tired of rhetoric - now they need to see real change in their daily lives," he said.

The Union this week agreed to step up its efforts to cut the amount of children and mothers dying across the continent. So far this campaign has been launched in 16 of the 53 member countries.

We want an Africa where women need not die because they are giving life,” said Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The member countries’ leaders also agreed to carry out at least eight action points over the next five years. These action points include strengthening health systems, developing health plans, and sharing good practices. Other promises they made were to follow up on the G8 pledge on maternal and newborn children, ask the Global Fund to finance maternal and child health programmes and bring in yearly reviews of maternal deaths, which they said will give countries a more accurate picture on the extent of maternal deaths across the continent.

The leaders have also committed to report annually to the assembly. In other words, we want to have maternal and child health as a standing agenda item for the next five years and to request the AU commission to establish a continental task force on maternal and child health,” said Ms Bience Gawanas, the commissioner for Social Affairs at the AU.

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