The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has announced a commitment aimed at eliminating zinc deficiency and improving food security in developing countries. The commitment announced at the 5th annual Clinton Global Initiative is a partnership between UNICEF, Clinton Global Initiative and Zinc Industry partners.

Through the nutrition initiative, UNICEF and other partners will work to ensure the survival, growth and development of children through improved zinc intake. Zinc deficiency has been identified as a significant public health problem contributing to the deaths of about 450,000 children each year. Worldwide, some 2 billion people are at risk of zinc deficiency.

?We announced a commitment today (Thursday) on nutrition cooperation. Nutrition is a very important part of what we do in UNICEF,? said Ann Veneman, the UNICEF Executive Director, in an interview with VOA.

She said UNICEF also made announcements on health, where commitment will focus on the survival of newborn babies and their mothers. ?For the last two years we have been involved in providing neonatal tetanus for pregnant women. ?Neonatal tetanus is very important because it is the first immunization a child gets while still in the womb.?

Another commitment with some partners, Veneman said, will be ?preventing sexual violence young women and girls, a critical issue around the world.? She said sexual violence takes away girls? opportunities, spreads HIV, and has many other negative impacts. ?It is very important that this year the Clinton Global Initiative is putting a lot of focus on girls and women and their importance to development.?

The UNICEF Executive Director also emphasized the importance of the Millennium development goals (MDGs). ?The Millennium development goals are critical. About two weeks ago I announced on behalf of UNICEF that child mortality had been reduced 28% since the baseline year (1990) for the MDGs.

She said what this means in real numbers is that ?ten thousand fewer children are dying every day than were dying in 1990. So there has been real progress made in MDG number 4 which is reducing child mortality.?

Veneman also pointed to progress made in universal access to primary education and gender equality in education, and clean water and sanitation. She, however, expressed concern on maternal health which she said is lagging behind, ?there are still about 500 thousand women around the world who die every year of maternal-related causes.?

On the issue of orphans, Veneman said UNICEF has many programs working with many partners trying to provide life skills for children who have no parental support. ?This is especially so in our initiative related to HIV/AIDS because so many of the orphans, especially in Southern Africa, have become orphans because their parents have died of AIDS.?

She said the world needs to focus on and address the issue of orphans and children made vulnerable by many reasons but particularly because of HIV/AIDS.  

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