Targeted health strategies necessary to save children’s lives – UNICEF

Targeted health strategies necessary to save children’s lives – UNICEF

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With some 26,000 children under the age of five dying every day, bolstered strategies are crucial to save lives, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in its annual flagship report released today which stresses that investing in the health of children and their mothers is both a human rights and development imperative.

With some 26,000 children under the age of five dying every day, bolstered strategies are crucial to save lives, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in its annual flagship report released today which stresses that investing in the health of children and their mothers is both a human rights and development imperative.

While in 1960 approximately 20 million children did not live to see their fifth birthday, that figure dipped below 10 million – to 9.7 million – for the first time in 2006, marking a 60 per cent drop in child mortality rates.

“However, there is no room for complacency,” writes Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF’s Executive Director, in her forward to the 164-page State of the World’s Children 2008 report launched today in Geneva.

She characterized the 9.7 million young lives lost every year as “unacceptable, especially when many of these deaths are preventable,” and appealed for the integration at the community level of essential services for mothers and children.

The new study, which stresses the need for increased access to treatment and avenues of prevention, underscores the impact that simple and affordable measures – including immunization, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin A supplements – can have on saving children’s lives.

In spite of progress made in the realm of children’s health, dozens of countries are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015.

“Stepping up investment in health systems will be crucial if we are to meet the child health targets set by the United Nations, but progress can be made even when health systems are weak,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “Innovative programmes in many countries show that an integrated approach where each child is reached with a package of interventions at one time can bring immediate benefits.”

The report – which draws on information from household survey data and materials from partners such as the WHO and the World Bank – urges an approach merging disease-specific initiatives with strengthened national health systems to create a “continuum of care” spanning the household, local clinics and communities, and beyond.

Three-quarters of the 62 countries not making necessary advances towards reaching that target are in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every six children dies before his or her fifth birthday, accounting for nearly half of all of the world’s under-five deaths in 2006.

To accelerate progress in curbing child and maternal mortality in Africa and elsewhere, UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank have created a framework that urges more rigorous collection of data for research and evaluation, as well as providing a “continuum of care” by combining disease-specific and nutrition interventions.

In addition, they advocate bolstering health systems, as well as increasing political commitment to integrated health strategies and harmonizing global health programmes and partnerships.