The United Nations General Assembly, Optimism and Concern About Maternal Health and the SDGs

Next Friday, the 70th Session of the United Nation’s General Assembly will gather in New York City to talk global poverty, disease, security, conflict and other critical issues that threaten the wellbeing of all world citizens.

This year’s UNGA (the main policymaking and representative gathering of the United Nations, comprised of 193 member states) session showcases the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals.

The SDGs will shape the agendas and policies for the United Nation, government leaders and development organizations over the next 15 years. The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goal platform (adopted in 2000 to end extreme poverty by 2015) but they’re more detailed and far reaching, with 17 specific goals to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice everywhere and stem climate change.

Too much, too little, or just right?

Some say the SDGs are too ambitions to be accomplished by the 2030 target date. Others say they’re not ambitious or inclusive enough to fully address all the conditions and challenges that leave millions living in poverty and suffering inequalities and that put our ability to sustain life on earth at risk. Every Mother Counts views the SDGs with optimism, but also a little concern. We’re optimistic that new approaches and fresh commitments will make maternal health a bigger priority. We’re concerned though that unlike with the MDGs; the SDGs don’t designate a separate goal specifically for maternal health. Instead, maternal health is targeted as part of SDG #3 (titled Good Health and Wellbeing), which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. It’s also addressed through the representation and empowerment of women throughout all 17 goals. We’re hopeful that’s an approach that just might work to improve women’s lives and maternal health overall.

It’s not just about moms

Maternal health is not a silo issue. Instead, it reflects the world we live in.

MDG#5 (to reduce maternal mortality by 75%) failed to meet its 2015 target because the broad range of interrelated cultural, economic, political, geographical and educational issues that contribute to poor maternal health are complicated. No single silver bullet will address them all. We hope that the depth of targets included in the SDGs that deal with gender equality, education, hunger, healthcare disparities and expansion, sanitation, water, climate change, violence and other issues will elevate the value of women’s lives, increase access to healthcare and dramatically improve maternal health outcomes globally.

And instead of attempting to reduce maternal mortality by 75%, this time the goals will call for reducing the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) to less than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births, from the current global MMR of 210.

Global conversations

We’re encouraged that the SDGs recognize that maternal health, mortality and morbidity are universal issues and that they’re inspiring discussions among global citizens from all walks of life. Mark Shriver, president of Save The Children Action Network, published, Together, We Can Ensure the Healthy Lives of Mothers and Babies Across the Globe, about the multi-factorial connections that exist between maternal and child health. He discusses how improving maternal health outcomes not only improves child health outcomes, but that you can’t target one without addressing the other.

Impatient Optimists

Melinda Gates’ essay, Progress on Health, but Not Fast Enough resonates with our sense of hope that’s tinged with concern. Gates writes, “I like to call myself an impatient optimist. I’m an optimist because I believe that when it comes to the problems facing the world’s poorest people, incredible progress is possible. …But I’m impatient because not all of that progress is occurring fast enough. By focusing on SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 3 and investing in proven solutions, we can turn our shared impatience into action.”

Melinda’s article above is one part of an on-going series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals titled, “What’s Working: Sustainable Development Goals.” To hear from others, click here.


We at Every Mother Counts consider ourselves impatient optimists too because we know what is possible when women and mothers have the resources they need. We hope the adoption of the SDGs will help achieve our goal of making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

Photo: Kassia Meador

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