The Accountability Breakfast 2020, held on 29 September alongside the UN General Assembly 2020, focused on securing global accountability for protecting women’s, children’s, and adolescents’ health and rights during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Over 1600 delegates from all over the world participated in the virtual event.
Hosted by The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), White Ribbon Alliance, and WE, the event was established on outcomes from the recent “Lives in the Balance” COVID-19 summit, and attracted a wide range of stakeholders from governments to grass-roots organizations, bringing together people with power to make changes and people calling for those changes to be made.
Led by the Rt Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of PMNCH, and moderated by Mercy Juma of BBC Africa, the event:-
1. Explored the difference that women’s political leadership makes to public accountability in relation to the pandemic
2. Presented new findings from the 2020 Progress Report on the EWEC Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health
3. Featured a community-hearing style session that brought together women’s and girls’ lived experiences, a panel of female activists, and national and global leaders committing to the Call to Action on COVID-19
4. United partners in aligning for action under a new ambitious five-year strategy for PMNCH.
“This important event provided a safe and inclusive platform for women and young people, campaigners and health workers involved in improving WCAH outcomes, as well as other citizens with important lived experiences and perspectives, to share their views, speak truth to power, and help forge a new agenda for change,” said Rt Hon Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of PMNCH.
Speaking on the impact of COVID-19 in the area of maternal and child health, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare said, “The maximum impact of COVID-19 has been felt by women, children, and adolescents and this called for urgent action. We are in a constant dialogue to ensure that healthcare services are made available to women, children and adolescents remain in focus despite the health systems being under severe strain due to the COVID epidemic.”
He further added, “We are now following a zero-tolerance approach for service denial to pregnant women and their newborn babies and have also strengthened our system for client feedback, grievance redressal, and greater accountability and transparency. The idea is to have a fully responsive and accountable health system that will not only result in a positive birthing experience but also help end preventable maternal and newborn deaths.”
Dr. Vardhan spoke of the Indian government’s stated policy of no denial for essential services. Essential services include Reproductive Maternal Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH), tuberculosis, chemotherapy, dialysis, and healthcare of the elderly, irrespective of the COVID status, free testing, and treatment for COVID across government health facilities, and the inclusion of COVID in the medical conditions covered under the Ayushman Bharat – PM-JAY insurance package provided by the government, which caters to almost 500 million people from the weakest socioeconomic strata. He expressed satisfaction that these steps have helped to reduce Out-of-Pocket-Expenditure of those affected.
The event took place as the global Every Woman Every Child movement’s recently published report warned that a decade of remarkable progress, including under-five deaths reaching an all-time low, maternal deaths falling by 35%, 25 million child marriages avoided, and one billion children vaccinated is now threatened by conflict, the climate crisis, and increasingly by the health, social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the event, Ms. Shukti Anantha, a young speaker from India said, “At the moment, the population of the youth is formerly misunderstood as a healthy population and are undermined to getting the right kind of attention or basically the defined necessary. Often the energies of the youth are side-tracked or neglected thus the rights are not fulfilled. The right kind of engagement would encourage the youth like us to hold the government accountable, have equal rights like any other adult to voice their concerns, and inform programs and policies to bring a positive image of the society. Despite new platforms such as PHMCH, Adolescents, and new constituency and an AAHA guideline which has rolled out in certain countries, there aren’t many formal avenues for adolescents’ participation in adolescent health programming.”
The Accountability Breakfast aims to convert talk into action with the launch of PMNCH’s Call-to-Action in response to the devastating effects of the pandemic on the health and rights of women, children and adolescents. Partners will join forces to advocate for firm political commitments, as part of a 24-month program of action to reinvigorate WCAH during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. These strands of activism will be picked up at a second PMNCH Lives in the Balance summit scheduled for December, 2020.