Worldwide, under-5 mortality has declined from more than 12 million deaths in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010—yet thousands of children still die every day from preventable diseases. This week, the Child Survival Call to Action was held: a meeting to mobilize the world toward one ambitious but simple goal—ending preventable child deaths. The meeting asked governments and partners to sign 'A Promise Renewed', a pledge to work toward greater child survival.
WASHINGTON D.C. (June 15, 2012) — United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged international leaders gathered at Georgetown University to commit more resources and effort to reduce the numbers of deaths of children.
“We are all here today with one vision—to make sure every child everywhere reaches his or her fifth birthday; to eliminate preventable child deaths in a generation. Now, not everyone agrees that goals like this are achievable or that we should set our sights so high, but I believe in setting goals and I believe we have good reasons for optimism. We already have many of the tools and much of the knowledge we need,” she said.
Child Survival Call to Action has convened 700 leaders and experts from the public and private sectors, along with faith-based communities, to map out ways to significantly reduce the numbers of children who die before their fifth birthday. The conference is co-convened by Ethiopia, India and the United States, in close collaboration with UNICEF.
In the last 40 years, thanks to new vaccines and improved health care practices, child deaths have been reduced by more than 50%.
Yet millions of children still die every year from preventable causes, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Child Survival Call to Action challenges the world to make specific plans to reduce child mortality to below 20 child deaths per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035.
Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad reported steady progress in reducing child mortality—in 2012, India’s child mortality rate almost equals the global average, despite being considerably higher in 1990. And he said India is particularly proud of its record in tackling polio.
“In 2010, we made special efforts to reach 800 million children using the innovative bivalent vaccine developed in India and achieved more than 99% coverage, including very difficult-to-reach endemic areas,” he said.
India has been polio-free for 17 months.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Health Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Ethiopia, which is striving to become a middle-income country, is seeing success with community health programs that in the last decade have halved the under-five mortality rates from 166 to 88 for every 1,000 live births, according to data from the country’s 2011 Demographic and Health Survey. Ethiopia aims to reduce that to fewer than 20 deaths by 2035.
“We will then be able to look back and say that we have done justice for our children, and we have written an important piece in human history,” Mr. Ghebreyesus said.
During the summit, governments, along with private and religious partners, are being asked to pledge their support for A Promise Renewed, a commitment to work on national plans for child survival, monitoring their results and focusing greater attention on the most vulnerable countries and communities. The government version of the pledge, announced by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, was signed today by Mr. Ghebreyesus, Mr. Nabi Azad and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
“We have the tools, the treatments, and the technology to save millions of lives every year, and there is no excuse not to use them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “To renew our promise to the world’s children, we have to focus on the leading causes of child mortality like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, scaling up coverage of high-impact, low-cost treatments, sparking greater innovation, and spurring greater political will to reach the hardest-to-reach children. The grand goal of preventing child deaths must be our common cause."
Actor and Founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative Ben Affleck said that in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world’s poorest nations, a targeted plan to reach the most vulnerable would bring big gains for child survival.
“The potential for change in the Congo is abundant. Ninety percent of Congo’s arable land is uncultivated. Once the breadbasket of Africa, its untapped resources could transform the lives of millions of children. The potential in Congo is clear,” he said.
The U.S. government was also represented at the summit by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, who said that President Barack Obama considers child health a moral and strategic issue.
“This includes, obviously, preventing child deaths. Doing so aligns with our values, promotes economic growth and promotes stability,” he said.
In a panel on the role of the private sector in increasing child survival, Merck Senior Vice President Geralyn Ritter announced a $200 million public-private partnership to reduce maternal mortality, starting in Uganda and Rwanda.
Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace William Vendley introduced a global initiative that promotes ten practices supported by religious organizations. They include breastfeeding, immunization, and elimination of harmful traditions. Mr. Vendley said the campaign aims to reach 250 million believers worldwide, and already 202 religious leaders and 60 faith-based organizations have committed to support it.