Gra�a Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela, wipes her tears during his funeral ceremony in Qunu. Picture: Reuters

Sandton - Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, revealed she could not bear to watch television coverage of her husband’s death as she used her first public speaking engagement since Mandela’s death to thank the world for its support.

As chairwoman of the international consortium the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), Machel opened the partnership’s two-day international conference on maternal and child health in Sandton on Monday.

She closed her opening remarks by thanking South Africa and the world for its support for her family and Mandela during his illness and after his death, which she referred to as the most humbling experience of her life.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, thank you, thank you to the millions of kids who took the trouble to write notes of love and support to Madiba while he was sick,” she said. “To the millions and millions of people who took the trouble to pray in every corner of the globe and prayed for him to be better.

“When he passed, I am told – because I couldn’t watch – that literally every TV station focused on his life and legacy.

“I know if Madiba had been there he would have said thank you to every sincere gesture which was taken just to say to him, ‘you are a life we appreciate and value’.”

Concluding her remarks to a standing ovation by several hundred delegates, Machel said it was fitting that her return to public speaking should mark a meeting on an issue so dear to Madiba’s heart – the health of women and children.

In 2000, global leaders committed themselves to meeting eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by next year, including reducing child and maternal mortality.

South Africa is unlikely to meet MDG targets to reduce maternal and child deaths by the MDG September deadline, according to data from the latest District Health Barometer.

The Health Systems Trust publication said about 1 600 new or expectant mothers lost their lives annually. Almost 6 percent of all children died before the age of 5 years, largely because of Aids-related illnesses, diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition.

Now, with just about 500 days remaining before the MDG deadline, those working to curb the world’s high rates of maternal and child death are looking forward to the next set of international targets, which remain contested.

The world now has a preliminary draft of what have been dubbed the Sustainable Development Goals, within which health is likely to be a cross-cutting issue. The SDGs will most likely be hotly debated for the next year until UN member states decide the targets that will be the rallying points for the next 15 years.

Speaking at the PMNCH conference, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said maternal and child health must remain on the world’s agenda.

“When the post-2014 agenda was being discussed… I heard some people saying that out of the MDGs, three were health-related and that it was time to move on,” he said.

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