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On September 8, a standing-room only crowd of policymakers and members of the global health community gathered in Washington, DC, to hear about ways to improve monitoring, transparency, and accountability for maternal, newborn, and child health. A panel of three speakers demonstrated the need to improve the way we monitor and evaluate programs for maternal and child health to capture and use data that can inform meaningful and effective program design and policy change.

“This is a pivotal month in a pivotal year when the world will take stock of promises made to women and children,” said Sallie Craig Huber, event moderator and global lead for results management at Management Sciences for Health (MSH). She was referencing the September 20–22 meeting of world leaders at the United Nations Summit to discuss progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, as efforts to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health (goals 4 and 5) are lagging.

Marge Koblinsky, senior technical advisor for the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, suggested that current maternal health indicators are not enough to truly understand the world’s maternal health situation. The indicators are difficult to measure and do not always paint a clear picture of the actual health outcomes of our interventions, she said. She provided data showing that other indicators, such as contraceptive prevalence rates, were more closely matched to maternal mortality outcomes.

It’s time to “get under the numbers” to determine why we are not getting the outcomes we want, said Ellen Starbird, deputy director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at the US Agency for International Development. Describing the important role that monitoring and evaluation play in the US president’s Global Health Initiative, she encouraged finding innovative ways to improve monitoring and evaluation and strengthen progress on global health goals. The initiative's principles of “innovation and research” and improving “metrics, monitoring, and evaluation” are related, Starbird noted.

Monique Widyono, program officer for gender, violence, and rights at PATH, pointed out that it’s crucial to understand the local context and capacity of health systems where we’re working to improve health. If we want to increase coverage of services in an area, we also need to think about workforce training and the quality of those services. Widyono encouraged policymakers and health program implementers to pay more attention to developing local and sustainable research capacity that would allow for more evidence-based decision-making at the country level.

The panel discussion was sponsored by PATH in collaboration with the Global Health Council and MSH and held at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. It was hosted by the center’s Global Health Initiative, the Maternal Health Task Force, and the United Nations Population Fund. The discussion was the third in a series of policy briefings about under-explored issues in maternal, newborn, and child health. 

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Posted September 24, 2010.