Sarah Brown: So much depends on ensuring the health of the world's mothers

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There are are many causes that exist side by side and each of us are right to argue for the causes we know to be important. Action on HIV/Aids. On malaria. On nutrition, on infant deaths. Action on schools and on building health care systems.

But there is one millennium target which if pursued aggressively could help us reach all our targets. And I am convinced a mother's survival is the key. It is the key to her baby's welfare and often that baby's life. A mother's survival can help prevent her family being hit by malaria. It can ensure that all her children, including her girls, go to school. A mother's survival can ensure that her children receive the right nutrition, ensure they receive their immunisations that will ensure their health during their first years.

We will not make the progress in these areas without reducing maternal mortality. But we will make progress on all these things and on nutrition, on empowerment and education, on health care, on immunisation, even – I believe – on the environment, if we make progress to reduce the number of mothers dying needlessly in childbirth.

The messages are simple and clear:

* To put girls and women at the centre of funding for health system strengthening.

*To identify and work with countries to get financed health plans up and running that meet the targets.

* To urge the UN secretary-general to make reducing maternal mortality a top priority – the gateway to the success of all the millennium development goals.

* And – finally, but very significantly – we must find a way to get maternal mortality recognised as a key indicator of a functioning health system. Our campaigners believe that all health budgets and funds should measure their success on how well they do for mothers – no more pregnant mothers dying from malaria, dying of malnutrition or worse still of ignorance. When people die we say of life, it has to go on. But when a mother dies it doesn't just go on for her children, nor for her community, the local economy and the environment too.

This is an extract from a speech by the wife of the Prime Minister and the patron of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood to the African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles

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