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Leaders, Health Experts Focus on Reducing Child Mortality


On the eve of the United Nations General Assembly debate, political leaders and health experts gathered in New York to discuss how to reduce the number of deaths of children under five in developing countries by 2015.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, 10.5 million children die each year as a result of improper neo-natal care, poor feeding practices, or from common diseases that can be easily treated, such as malaria, measles and pneumonia.

UNICEF Director Ann Veneman says many of the deaths of children under five are preventable. "Nearly, a quarter of the deaths of children under five could be prevented with concerted efforts to scale up current vaccines and those that will soon be available. But scaling up alone will not be enough, it must also go hand in hand with longer term strengthening of national health systems, coherent partnerships and initiatives at country level," she said.

Half of the 20 countries with the highest child mortality rates are affected by high HIV-AIDS rates and armed conflict and all have high poverty rates.

The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, says his country has made tremendous strides in reducing child mortality, but any further progress depends on sustainable peace. "Polio was almost eradicated. Last year we had perhaps four cases; this year we have 27 cases of polio precisely in the south of Afghanistan and the areas where terrorism is hurting the population. Where nurses can't go to vaccinate. Where doctors can't function, where clinics are burnt, where schools are burnt. Peace and development are a must for improved health and that is what we should all be seeking," he said.

UNICEF says careful monitoring and implementation of goals set by the United Nations will have a ripple effect and make other goals easier to achieve.

Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan says in a time of global abundance, the world has an obligation to reduce child mortality. "I think of the four million newborns worldwide who die in the first month of life, a number equivalent to all the babies born in the United States each year. And I think of how the accident of where they are born determines their chance to survive.... We have the resources to save children's lives and we will choose to use them," she said.

UNICEF found some good news in its worldwide assessment. Seven countries - Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, and the Philippines - are on the path to reaching UN goals for improving child survival by 2015.

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