“Health is a foundation for prosperity, stability and poverty reduction,” Mr. Ban said at the opening of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting aiming at advancing progress in strengthening maternal and girls’ health, as well as fighting neglected tropical diseases.Every year more than half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, almost all in developing countries, he told the over 400 participants, including leaders from the business, philanthropic, academic and global health community, including companies such as IKEA, Merrill Lynch and Toyota.“We must put an end to these senseless deaths,” Mr. Ban insisted, adding that “women are engines of development and drivers of improved health.”At a press conference ahead of the event, Marianne Barner, who heads IKEA’s Social Initiative, announced a $48 million donation to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) programme in India.She said the funds will impact the lives of 90 million people: 80 million children and young people and 10 million women.“This brings our total investment in India to around $120 million and our total commitment to UNICEF globally to over $180 million until 2015,” added Ms. Barner.Reducing the maternal mortality rate by two-thirds is among the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of internationally agreed targets aiming to slash poverty, hunger and eradicate other social ills by 2015.“Maternal health is a critical component of the well-being of any society. Yet among all the Millennium Development Goals, this is where there has been least progress,” warned the Secretary-General.He called for the UN family and national governments to coordinate their efforts, drawing from the expertise of foundations, research centres and academia, as well the innovative spirit of the private sector and the dynamism of civil society. Mr. Ban pointed to the example set by cutting down the incidence of malaria in many countries as a way forward with other health issues. “By making joint efforts and strengthening coordination, the malaria community has achieved real gains. In some African countries there has been a dramatic decline in the incidence of malaria,” he said.The Secretary-General also highlighted the challenge faced by neglected tropical diseases that “afflict about one billion of the world’s poorest people. Yet these diseases are largely treatable.” Controlling these diseases offers a strategy for tackling many of the conditions that promote poverty, which is especially important at the present time of economic crisis, he said.“The economic crisis is putting at risk the unprecedented rise in public and private funding we have witnessed in recent years. The food crisis and the threat posed by climate change have profound implications for people’s health and well-being,” he warned. Mr. Ban challenged participants “to think radically about how we can take our efforts to the next level and forge a truly powerful global partnership for global health.”Former United States President Bill Clinton will be offering closing remarks to the Special Event on Philanthropy and Global Public Health Agenda, which was co-organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the UN Office for Partnerships (UNOP). 23 February 2009The role of philanthropists and philanthropic organizations is crucial in tackling some avoidable health threats which kill millions of vulnerable people every year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.