With nearly 11 million children dying before the age of five every year, most from preventable causes, the world's paediatricians must champion action that reaches beyond traditional health initiatives to underlying factors such as poverty, discrimination, and minority marginalization, according to the United Nations' top children's advocate.
"We are at a stage where we cannot make major reductions in child and maternal mortality through initiatives in the health sector alone," UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy told more than 7,000 paediatricians gathered for their quadrennial convention this week in Cancun, Mexico, including the heads of dozens of national paediatric associations.
"To reach these crucial goals, enlightened political leadership is necessary. Leadership that is willing to recognize underlying causes and take appropriate steps to confront them," she added.
She called on paediatricians to advocate reforms and attitude changes that break patterns of discrimination and enable health efforts to reach the unreached. "Paediatricians can make a difference by speaking out not only about the symptoms but also about the causes of these avoidable deaths and lost human potential," she said.
Arguing that to make lasting progress in child survival, partners involved in the effort must understand that a healthy childhood has many facets, Ms. Bellamy noted that perhaps no health practitioners understood this better than paediatricians.
"You know that an immunized child who is beaten or abused is not a healthy child," she said. "You know that a healthy child who never goes to school will not stay healthy for long. You know that intelligent children who are marginalized because of prejudice will never reach their potential. And you know that keeping a child alive, healthy, well-nourished, and protected is not a job for Health Ministries alone."