The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for focusing on the most vulnerable children to save more lives, during a visit to India, where he got a first-hand look at efforts to deliver targeted health services to the poor.
During a visit to the eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday, Executive Director Anthony Lake administered oral polio vaccine to babies brought by their families to be immunized during Village Health and Nutrition Day, which offers integrated health services to villagers once a month.
“We can save more lives, not by forgetting the poorest people and the hardest to reach places, but by focusing investment directly upon them,” said Mr. Lake. “India is in the process of proving that such an equity focus is not only right in principle, it is right in practice – providing returns in the poorest areas.”
According to UNICEF, 741 of the more than 1,600 children affected by polio last year worldwide were in India. Of those cases, 719 were children from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The Polio Partnership in India, led by the Government and carried out with support from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, works with health workers, civil society groups and local communities to make sure every child under the age of five is immunized against polio.
Thanks to the polio vaccination campaigns conducted in Bihar in 2010, only nine cases of the disease have been recorded there this year.
Workers involved in the immunization drives also promote diarrhoea management with oral rehydration salts and zinc, as well as handwashing, toilet use and exclusive breastfeeding.
“What you are doing here in India today – focusing on providing targeted services at the community and health facility level, strengthening the continuum of care and developing a framework for following up throughout a child’s life with other lifesaving interventions – is a blueprint for us all and the world should be watching your progress,” Mr. Lake told UNICEF staff working in the area.