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‘No Woman Should Die while Giving Life,’ Secretary-General Says At Event on Ending Maternal Mortality


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at an event on ending maternal mortality, in Nairobi today:

I am pleased to be here in Nairobi to speak on a subject so close to my heart.

Maternal mortality has been one of the Millennium Development Goals where we have seen the slowest progress. The objective of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and provide universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

Even though we have seen advances in recent years, too many women still die in childbirth or from complications related to pregnancy. Most of these deaths are preventable. That is why we launched our Every woman, every child movement.

A little investment in simple solutions, such as basic midwife training for women in villages or motorcycle ambulances for women in remote rural areas, can go a long way. That is why I welcome the initiative of the First Lady of Kenya, Madam Margaret Kenyatta.

The “Beyond Zero” campaign can drastically reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in Kenya. Women need a safe environment to deliver with the assistance of skilled birth attendants.

I commend the Government of Kenya for adopting its free maternity services policy and allocating 4 billion Kenya shillings — more than $45 million — towards maternal health in the 2014-15 budget. The United Nations fully supports your efforts and will “deliver as one” to help reduce maternal mortality in Kenya.

Achieving this goal will need the engagement of a wide range of partners, including the Red Cross, schools and universities, the private sector and the media. Such multi-stakeholder partnerships, based on innovation and improvisation, are the key to effective results across the development spectrum.

I welcome the plan by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health to focus attention on the 10 counties where maternal deaths are highest. This can strongly improve the national ratio, steer Kenya towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 and serve as a role model for the rest of Africa.

But, ladies and gentlemen, to truly triumph over maternal mortality, we must focus our initiatives on the adolescent girl. Adolescent girls need to be able to go to school and pursue education to the highest levels possible.

They should not be forced to marry young or have children too early. Young women need the power to choose when and whom to marry and when to have children. That means access to appropriate family planning services.

Girls and young women also need to be shielded from harmful traditional practices. We must end female genital mutilation.

Last month, I met a young woman in London named Fahma Mohamed. She is bravely campaigning to raise awareness about female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom, where a number of minority communities still compel their daughters to undergo cutting. I told her I would support her cause and speak out about this barbaric practice whenever and wherever possible.

Some 20 per cent of girls in Kenya are cut, and in Somalia, the proportion is close to 98 per cent. African Governments are united in opposing female genital mutilation, and the United Nations is giving priority to helping all communities abandon this practice.

When an adolescent girl is safe from harm and able to choose when to bear children, she can be saved from HIV infection, haemorrhage, obstetric complications, such as obstructed labour and fistula, and death. She can be a productive, empowered member of a thriving nation. I am, therefore, happy to support Kenya’s “Beyond Zero” campaign and I applaud the commitment of Kenya’s First Lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta.

In 2012, I was privileged to run a few steps in London carrying the Olympic Torch. This year, Madam Kenyatta ran a whole marathon, carrying the torch for women everywhere.

Madam Kenyatta, please keep up your good work and help us to broadcast our message loud and clear: “No woman should die while giving life.”

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