ISLAMABAD – Speakers at a conference stressed the importance of better uptake of research-based evidence to improve in policies and practices related to maternal and newborn health in Pakistan.

The second annual conference of the Maternal and Newborn Health Programme - Research and Advocacy Fund (RAF) - was held here on Thursday, with the theme ‘Bridging the Gap - Evidence for Policy and Practice’. 

RAF is a grant fund of the Department for International Development (UKaid) and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Managed by the British Council, RAF funds research and evidence-based advocacy to improve practices and policies related to maternal and newborn health, to help Pakistan achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. 

Findings and lessons from projects funded by RAF were presented. Sessions focussed on the costs and financing of maternal and newborn health in Pakistan, socio-economic and cultural factors affecting maternal and newborn health, and engaging with civil society to improve health outcomes.

Delegates from both the public and private sector, including provincial secretaries and director generals of health, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) programme managers and heads of various national and international NGOs attended the event.

The Deputy Chairperson Planning Commission of Pakistan Dr. Nadeem ul Haq was the guest of honour for the event. Stressing the importance of investment in maternal and newborn health, he said that this investment was only possible from the perspective of a holistic approach to development, an approach the Planning Commission is now introducing with its growth framework. He highlighted the role of academia and research in the growth framework and expressed hope that the planning commission will learn from the research findings from RAF funded work.

Peter Upton, Director British Council, Desmond Whyms, Senior Health Advisor UKaid, Andrew Mackee, Acting Counsellor Development Cooperation AusAID and Sarah Hall, Programme Manager RAF also addressed the audience, stressing the respective commitments of their organisations to remain engaged with improving Pakistan’s health outcomes. The speakers highlighted the purpose of RAF, and stressed the need to share knowledge, information and strengthen collaboration between national, provincial and local public and private stakeholders to work together to improve maternal and newborn health in Pakistan. 

“Women and children are the UK’s number one health priority in Pakistan” said Desmond Whyms.

He also highlighted that by 2015, UK aid will have funded the training and deployment of 12,000 CMWs, helped prevent 3,600 mothers’ deaths, delivered 350,000 more babies in hospitals, prevented 750,000 women from developing anaemia during pregnancy, and provided full immunisation for 280,000 children and diarrhoea treatment for over a million others.