The leaders of the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund are emphasizing that prevention is the key to reducing the high death rate among children in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
Four-and-a-half million children on the sub-Saharan continent die each year, at a time when the actual number of childhood deaths worldwide has dropped from 20 million to 11 million.
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy says that must change. "The situation is quite unacceptable," she said. "It is unacceptable because we know how to prevent most of these deaths."
UNICEF and the World Health Organization are promoting simple home-based preventions such as breast-feeding, and the use of bed nets to protect children from malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the largest killer of children in Africa. The two organizations are also providing oral re-hydration salts to fight diarrhea, another leading cause of death among children.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Jong Wook Lee says WHO is working with UNICEF to eradicate polio by 2005 and provide three million HIV-infected individuals with anti-viral medication by the same deadline. "In the Africa continent, we believe the HIV situation is in a crisis, especially on the treatment side," he said.
Additionally, Ms. Bellamy and Dr. Lee say there is a direct link between lack of education and the cycles of poverty, illness and mortality. And UNICEF's Ms. Bellamy says gender plays a big role, as well, noting that women in Africa are dying in alarming numbers. She says one in 13 African women die during childbirth, compared with one in 4,000 in industrialized nations.
"While there has been improvement in global health and living standards, a great gulf has opened between the developed world and the developing world, between urban and rural populations and between women and men," she said.
The leaders of the two U.N. organizations spoke with members of the media at U.N. headquarters in New York City.