From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals: A Global Call to Collective Action

The Millennial Development Goals, or MDGs, established fifteen years ago sought to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms.  Along with 189 countries, committed philanthropists, NGOs and other stakeholders came together to address basic social and economic inequalities across the globe.  As a result of their combined efforts the following achievements have gone a long way toward advancing human progress and addressing the needs of people across the globe:

  • Today, people living on less than $1.25 per day has been halved resulting in 700 million fewer people living in extreme poverty  
  • Primary school enrollment has increased by half and in developing countries enrollment has reached 91%  
  • Globally, people receiving treatment for HIV has increased 15 fold while newly acquired infections fell by 40%
  • 2.6 billion people now have access to safe and improved water supplies
  • Child mortality has been reduced by more than half around the world…… still, 11 children will die every minute from preventable diseases until our work is complete

The world is seeing whole communities, whole countries delivered from poverty.  Economic instruments such as microfinance have allowed men, and women especially, to pursue entrepreneurial business and agricultural ventures to sustain themselves, their families and their communities.  Technological advances, like mobile phone technology, are opening the digital virtual classroom for midwives to learn the latest technologies for safe and joyous deliveries while also expanding midwives’ ability to respond in time to the urgent needs of their expectant mothers –  saving lives in the process. Human progress has moved forward with great momentum because of the foundation for growth the Millennium Development Goals built.  We had a plan.  We had a map.  We had qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure our progress.  And, we succeeded in many areas.  Near and dear to our hearts is our work in the Philippines where we find it to be one country to take a look at in terms of progress, achievement, and the work that remains to be done when we begin to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

There has been mixed progress on the MDGs for the Philippines.  Deaths from malaria  and tuberculosis have declined significantly.  However, the Philippines remains 1 of 7 countries where HIV is significantly on the rise, particularly among young adults.  The use of modern methods of contraception has decreased slightly over time between 2006-2011.  This decrease in the use of contraception not only exacerbates the HIV prevalence and prevention of the disease, it leaves Filipinos vulnerable to contracting other communicable STDs.  Access to universal primary education has increased although retention and graduation rates remain, along with the quality of education, lower than desired.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights education as mandated by the Reproductive Health Bill (also known as the Responsible Parenthood Act) lacks uniformity in its application and in full participation by all public schools who are required by law to provide students with information about their bodies, their rights, and their choices.   

Much of the slow progress the Philippines is experiencing is due to the island archipelago nation’s frequent natural disasters. The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world  ranking third according to the World Risk Index, a report published by United Nations University.   Many in the scientific community attribute the country’s vulnerability for natural disasters as a direct result of climate change.  This unique challenge has  slowed and even reversed much of the MDG progress in the country and has hampered our efforts to achieve goals concerning maternal mortality.  

Maternal mortality continues to be very high at more than double the MDG target of reducing maternal mortality to a maximum of 52 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.  Child mortality has declined by two-thirds, although neonatal deaths have only slightly been reduced because many women still do not have access to skilled birth attendance in a facility.  Inextricably linked to maternal mortality is the neonatal mortality trend.   Carrying one’s pregnancy to term and giving birth are the most vulnerable moments of a woman’s life.  While child mortality between the ages of 0 to 60 months has improved, maternal and neonatal mortality have stagnated at wholly unacceptable levels.  Great efforts at sustaining the young with nutrition, immunization, and disease prevention have secured the health of the young.  However, the fact remains that still too many Filipino women are giving birth without skilled birth attendance and are not accessing the birth facilities available to them.  

This assertion, however, does not account for the many more women living remotely, or without financial means, who do not have access to facilities.   Barriers to care are not limited to access and economic reasons alone.  Culturally, Filipino women and their families may have relied for generations on local women attendants at birth.  The Hilots, as they are known to the people, are experienced but lack education and skill.  They will accompany a home birth with minimal ability to address urgent care needs such as obstructed labor, haemorrhage, and eclampsia – all of which are treatable conditions and are even able to be identified during prenatal care by a skilled midwife or physician.  Further complicating a family’s desire to have the birth in a facility is the custom of some state and private facilities of holding women against their will in the facility until payment for the delivery can be arranged.    

Even with the slow progress the Philippines has seen many advancements in the areas of  malaria and TB reduction, access to, and availability of, primary education, basic sanitation and safe drinking water.  

  As we now mobilize ourselves and our organizations to pivot to and implement the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, we carry on the momentum of the MDGs and lessons learned in the adoption of the new goals that are gathered together as a call to action to end poverty in all its forms, once and for all.  Certainly, it is an ambitious endeavor that will require the commitment of the many nations of the world and their partners and stakeholders to focus their development efforts on the sustainability of our planet.

The SDGs are a comprehensive approach to sustainable living with 17 specific goals and 169 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the world’s progress. A most welcome development is the greater attention given to maternal health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) than was evidenced in the MDGs.  This renewed and reenergized focus on SRHR stems from the sheer wealth of evidence that shows access to modern methods of birth control is central to fighting poverty and is solely the most cost effective way to do it.  Poverty cannot be eradicated without properly addressing a woman’s right to choose, control and/or space her pregnancies.  

If the need for modern contraception was met across the globe:

  • Unintended pregnancies would decrease by 70%
  • Unsafe abortions would decrease by 74%.
  • Maternal deaths would decrease by 25%

Access to modern contraception has a positive effect on the lives of girls and women.  Early unintended pregnancies often lead to girls interrupting or discontinuing their education which only reinforces the cycle of poverty for their families and their communities. The truth is that women’s participation in the labor force not only increases with each additional year of secondary schooling but it also increases a woman’s potential income by 15-25%.  These facts alone should make it apparent that decreasing women’s’ barriers to accessing modern methods of birth control is good for the health of societies.

To this end, Alay Foundation is dedicated to improving reproductive health for women and their families in the Philippines.   Alay Foundation brings free SRHR educational outreach classes into the barangays of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija to reach people where they live in their communities.   Along with an adult class, we have a youth-centered SRHR class where Alay Foundation partners with local schools to deliver dynamic and interactive classes to the student participants.  Our outreach efforts are growing and expanding with each classroom full of participants  We are excited as we get our work underway in 2016 and are planning to reach as many in the community as we can.  Please join us in our efforts by visiting our “Support” page.  Your donation of $55 will support the entire cost of one class.  Won’t you stand with us in combatting poverty and providing critical health education?

From MDGs to SDGs: Maternal Health Must Remain Our Focus

**Mother and child enrolled in PhilHealth by Alay Foundation
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As the United Nation’s Open Working Group finalizes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), Alay Foundation will continue to be an advocate for maternal health and family planning as the SDG’s are put in place to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.  
 
Addressing maternal mortality is a global imperative that requires a commitment of partnerships between governments, nonprofits, corporate sponsors and advocates around the world. A sharing of ideas, best practices, data, research, and outcomes is important to make a global impact on reducing maternal mortality ratios.  This sharing of knowledge with countries that are struggling to meet their target for reducing maternal mortality will benefit them through learning from the strategies of countries that are having great success in decreasing their nation’s MMR. 
While reducing the maternal mortality ratio makes an appearance in the  proposed Sustainable Development Goals, it is not a prominent goal such as it was with the Millennium Development Goals. We must work harder to keep the initiative of maternal health at the forefront of our advocacy work as we partner with other organizations and attempt to change harmful practices and beliefs that deter women and their families from optimal health.  While the birthing center’s construction is a few short months away, we are about to embark on our first comprehensive demographic research study to collect information that will allow us to tailor and structure our educational outreach programs in San Jose and the surrounding barangay to meet the needs of the people.
 
Alay Foundation eagerly anticipates the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and is prepared to embrace this next platform of goals to eradicate global poverty.  We will continue our work in the field advocating and educating women and families and are excited as we look forward to the opening of our of our birthing center and our upcoming events.

International Day of the Girl: The Time Has Come

Empowering women starts with the belief that women have the same social, economic, and political power that their male counterparts are privileged to have throughout the world. The belief that a women’s autonomy is somehow infused with the men that share their lives is a belief of a generation come to pass; a belief that belongs firmly in history; a belief that has only harmed the progress of women and girls and universally impeded our ability to address the world’s most pressing issues.  Poverty, today, persists because of this gender inequality.  This is an idea that is not new to the world’s call to end poverty.  A 2007 UNICEF State of the World’s Children report states: 

Gender equality will not only empower women to overcome poverty, but also their children, families, communities and countries. When seen in this light, gender equality is not only morally right – it is pivotal to human progress and sustainable development.  

When women and girls are prevented from achieving educational attainment, society suffers from the loss of their contributions as leaders.  When women are held back by circumscribed roles that prevent them from entrepreneurial enterprises in their communities it only hinders economies, both locally and globally. When women and girls experience discrimination and violence in their families, communities, and societies they are unable to reach the full measure of their promise and potential.  

The time for mere awareness has passed, it is now time for action. So much of what pertains to action is about changing negative social norms through advocacy, education and legislation.  When these mechanisms are at work, a woman’s voice is not only heard but amplified by the support of individuals and institutions that protect and preserve her basic rights.  An important part of the work of Alay Foundation is to educate and empower women with medically accurate sexual reproductive health information, both at our coming birthing and women’s center in San Jose and in our educational outreach programs in the barangay that will be starting soon.   

The nexus between poverty and family planning cannot be understated.  Women who are able to choose the number and spacing of their children are women who are empowered to create families that can sustain themselves; families that are able to provide shelter, education, and hope for all their members. Family planning is not about population control. It is a way for families to achieve something beyond poverty.  

On this International Day of the Girl, we take the time to reflect on the problems facing girls globally and commit ourselves to ending gender inequality in order to see a world where girls participate fully in the solutions that will bring about the kind of lasting change that gives us all hope for the future.