December, 2018 – Partners’ Forum, New Delhi

Meaningful accountability can make all the difference to ensure that women, children and adolescents survive and thrive, and are able to transform their lives as productive citizens. That was the overall theme of “Plenary Session 3: Accountability for Action” at the 2018 Partners’ Forum, a two-day Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) event held in New Delhi December 12-13.

“These days, ‘accountability’ seems to be the most common and oft repeated buzz word in international development conferences,” said the UN Secretary General’s Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman, Every Child, Every Adolescent (IAP) co-chair Kul Chandra Gautam, who moderated the plenary session that kicked off a series of concurrent sessions covering several aspects of accountability in the context of women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health. “In the development discourse it has now acquired the same currency and status as once enjoyed by the terms: ‘empowerment,’ ‘capacity building,’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘equity.’”

Gautam went on to explain that accountability is not just a new fad, there is a deeper reason for its prominence. Giving a brief history of the goal-setting culture that has become embedded in United Nations (UN) agencies, Gautam explained that UN goals have developed a reputation for being “ever set and never met.” He said that because the current iteration of global aspirations—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—are so broad, it is imperative to create a strong system of accountability for results.

Accountability in Action

In a highly engaging presentation that was preceded by an instant polling session where participants responded to questions about the state of data that is needed to ensure accountability in women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, speakers from governments, the private sector, academia, and civil society exchanged ideas about the successes and challenges involved in gathering the data needed to tell the story of the results different interventions are having in achieve the SDGs related to women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.

Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s Minister of Health, described the introduction of district league tables in Uganda, which capture progress according to defined criteria—including the number of medical staff, maternal mortality and under-five mortality—and drive improvements in the delivery of health care services for women, children and adolescents.

Ranking district medical authorities enabled policymakers to identify districts that were performing well and those that were lagging behind, thereby helping to target interventions more effectively: rewarding good districts with additional funding and providing much-needed data to guide additional support required in poor-performing districts. A similar scheme has been introduced in India, said former IAP member Prof. Vinod Paul, Member of India’s Niti Ayog. As a result, “Aspirational Districts” have been identified where additional resources are provided to improve the delivery of health services.

Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine summed up the problem with data in one of the most quoted acronyms of the day: DRIP, which stands for data rich, information poor, which she characterized as a disease in and of itself within the global health community. The only way to cure it, she said, is to more effectively process data so that it can be translated into useful information for making more appropriate and effective policy decisions.

Private Sector Accountability for Health and Nutrition

In one of six concurrent sessions focusing on different aspects and contexts of accountability within women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, IAP member Elizabeth Mason presented IAP’s 2018 report on private sector accountability in a session moderated by Dan Irvine of World Vision International.  Although the private sector is contributing significantly to health and the health sector, Mason and other members of the panel stated that accountability cannot be left to voluntary mechanisms and that the private sector should be regulated in the same way as the public sector. The motto of the session was “health before wealth, people before profit.”

The other five concurrent sessions were on the following topics:

  • the role of evidence and data innovation;
  • improving financial accountability to achieve the Global Strategy’s objectives;
  • citizen engagement in accountability;
  • parliamentarians’ role in holding governments to account;
  • and accountability in humanitarian emergency settings.

Introduction of New IAP Members

The forum also marked the debut of five new IAP members, who were appointed at the beginning of December by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. They are: Joy Phumaphi (Botswana), co-chair, Nicholas Kojo Alipui (Ghana), Carol Kidu (Papua New Guinea), Jovana Rios Cisnero (Panama), and Gita Sen (India).

They join existing IAP members Kul Chandra Gautam (Nepal), Brenda Killen (Ireland), Elizabeth Mason (UK), Giorgi Pkhakadze (Georgia), and Alicia Ely Yamin (USA).