U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Washington called on the Obama administration Monday to lead an effort to raise another $45 billion for maternal and child health at the upcoming meetings of the G-8 and G-20 in Canada.
"We need U.S. leadership. I hope the U.S. will come out with strong additional support," Ban said, noting that the U.S. government has invested in programs to combat HIV/AIDS but arguing that it must now make the same level of commitment on child and maternal health. "I know President Obama and Secretary Clinton will exercise their strong leadership role in the G-8 and the G-20."
Ban declined to say how much exactly the new U.S. contribution should be, but he did say he spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue recently.
"As the world's biggest leader and power, the U.S. should be able to mobilize, together with major donors, strong financial support," Ban said. "I know the economic situation is quite difficult, but still, the economic situation should not give any excuse to give any less attention on this. There must be strong and focused attention by the U.S. government."
Ban stopped in Washington to attend the "Women Deliver" conference being held Monday at the convention center and spoke to reporters with Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist Bill Gates. The Gates Foundation announced Monday a new $1.5 billion commitment to maternal and child heath.
Gates said that the U.S. government must "step up" the way that the new British government has done and commit to funding this effort.
"You need to see these developed nations step up and say ‘This is the right thing to do,'" she said. "That's how you get leadership on this."
The effort is part of Ban's drive to meet the deadlines laid out in the Millennium Development Goals, specifically goals four and five, which set out ambitious targets for reducing deaths for mothers and their children by 2015.
None of the new Gates money will go to fund abortions, Gates said, and the U.N. has no official position on abortion other than to support its safety where legal, Ban explained. One out of seven deaths among pregnant women result from illegal or unsafe abortions, but this will not be a focus of the new initiative.
Ban said the initiative dovetails with the third Millennium Development challenge goal of "gender empowerment," even though it doesn't address women's rights or human rights directly.
"To be empowered, women should be healthy. That's the basic starting point," Ban said. "Human rights is a cross-cutting agenda ... Simply because there is less mention of human rights does not mean there is a lack of willingness."