Top officials from 80 nations and a broad coalition of public and private health groups are calling for intensified global efforts to curb the number of children under five dying from preventable diseases. Public health officials say the ambitious new strategy aims to reduce child mortality from 7.6 million to one million annually within two decades.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged hundreds international health leaders and government representatives who met recently in Washington to redouble their efforts to combat child mortality.
“One day, all children - wherever they are born - will have the same chance to survive,” she said.
Most delegates at the meeting already know the goal can be achieved through a variety of inexpensive and effective medical interventions. Anthony Lake, executive director of the U.N. children's relief agency, UNICEF, says the challenge is finding the political will to do it.
“We have a lot of work to do. Rhetoric is one thing and results are another, and we are going to achieve it,” he said.
Lake says one new goal for the U.N. agency is to target the five countries that annually account for nearly half of these preventable child deaths.
“We know through new methods and through dedicated work and through work in especially disadvantaged communities that we can achieve this goal and if we can achieve it [then] we have to achieve it,” he said.
“This time it is different," said Dr. Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. "You see the five countries that have 50 percent of all child mortality - India, Pakistan, Nigeria, DRC and Ethiopia coming - being co-hosts - making strong statements about their national strategies, commitments, resources, and score cards. You see international organizations being willing to hold themselves to account.”
Shah is hopeful the new way forward of targeting resources into the most affected countries is a better approach to reducing child mortality.
“There is no excuse why anybody dies from malaria," said Ray Chambers, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Malaria. "And that’s why we turned up the heat - to eliminate deaths.”
Most deaths among children under five result from preventable illnesses such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and from neonatal complications.
“It has to be driven by the political will of each and every country - each leader at the national level, at the province level, at the district level has to support it,” said Seth Berkley, who heads the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Berkley says success in these efforts will require taking full advantage of new diagnostic technologies and new medicines - and making health services accessible to everyone who needs them.