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Public-private partnerships presented as models to reduce maternal and child health inequities

Bill Gates and Carlos Slim support the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 Initiative, featured as one of the central issues at IDB’s Annual Meeting

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PANAMA CITY – The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Fundación Carlos Slim, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and civil society organizations spoke today of the importance of public-private partnerships to reduce health inequities affecting, in particular women and children under 5 years of age in Mesoamerica. Representatives from the public and private sectors took part in the seminar “A New Way of Doing Health” at the IDB’s Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors, and remarked on the potential that these associations have for the reduction of health equity gaps in the region.

Public-private health partnerships were one of the central themes at the IDB Annual Meeting being held in Panama. During the seminar, the example of the Salud Mesoamérica 2015 (SM2015) Initiative was emphasized—an innovative partnership promoting, together with the eight Mesoamerican countries health interventions that will directly benefit 1.8 million women and children in Central America and Mexico.

The seminar included the participation IDB’s President, Luis Alberto Moreno; its Vice President for Sectors and Knowledge, Santiago Levy; and representatives of the Initiative’s partners: Roberto Tapia, Director General of the Fundación Carlos Slim; Gary Darmstadt, Director of the Family Health Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Carmen Barroso, Regional Director for the Western Hemisphere of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

The message of Gates and Slim

Within the framework of the event, Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Fundación Carlos Slim, and Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, appeared together in a video interview calling for partnerships between the private sector and governments in order to work jointly to reduce the inequalities in maternal and child health affecting primarily mothers and children of Mesoamerica.

“Public-private associations are very important,” said Slim, “not only to help solve the problems posed by health care, but also to work with education, infrastructure, public investment, environmental issues.” Likewise, Gates emphasized the value of these partnerships, as they made it possible “to combine different expertise: financial expertise, regional expertise, health expertise,” concluding that “for a very low cost, you can take care of the health of mothers and children, and reduce the mortality rate and the sickness very dramatically.”

Moreno remarked that the novelty of this partnership is that it aims to improve more efficient use of resources, generate greater impact and create institutional capacities. “The IDB acknowledges that any partnership of this kind must complement the national efforts made by the governments and generate a political dialogue to lend sustainability to the programs,” he added.

This Initiative is highly relevant for the region considering the maternal and child mortality and morbidity rates that prevail. In Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, for instance, per every 100,000 live births, 110 women die during pregnancy, delivery or post-partum, compared with the average rate of maternal mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is of 85 per 100,000 live births.

Chronic malnutrition is another problem in Mesoamerica, where about 2.5 million children under 5 years of age suffer from this condition. In some Central American countries the prevalence rate in children is among the highest in the world.

The SM2015 Initiative

The Carlos Slim Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are part of the SM2015 partnership along with the government of Spain, the IDB and eight countries of the Mesoamerican region (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the State of Chiapas in Mexico). In the coming years this partnership seeks to reduce by an average of 15 percent the infant mortality among the poorest 20 percent of the region’s poorest population; provide health services for some 260,000 children to reduce chronic malnutrition; and increase by 50 percent of births attended by skilled personnel, in order to reduce deaths of mothers and newborns, among others issues.

Carlos Slim and Bill Gates have been partners in SM2015 since the launch of the Initiative in June 2010. “When the opportunity to work with the Slim Foundation, and the Bank, and others came along to assist Central-American countries and help them get up to the best practices, we were very excited,” said Gates recalling that SM2015 is “the first significant health partnership we did with the Slim Foundation.”