The three day Summit for Child Survival in India this past week, was a major milestone. Hundreds of national and state level policymakers and program managers, leaders from private and public sectors, researchers, community mobilisers, media and development partners came together to pledge their support to India’s call for action on child survival.
In 2003, a team of experts came together in Bellagio to chart a path to reducing child mortality, urging leaders across the globe to harness the powers of known solutions: immunizations, anti-malarial drugs, oral rehydration therapy, and antibiotics to raise the visibility of child deaths, and fight for the lives of the world’s forgotten children. The Lancet wrote at the time that the findings laid out what must be done to save these children from dying. The question then was:
Would we have the will to do what needs to be done?
Over the last ten years, we believe that we have answered that question in the affirmative. At the Summit, India did much more than to renew that commitment. In this last decade, India has taken crucial steps forward. We have not seen a polio case in the last two years, and child mortality rates are declining.
But we appreciate that these numbers do not tell the whole story – they mask large disparities and inequities between, and within states.
Many at the Summit pointed out that child survival isn’t just about reducing death—it’s about improving life. Beyond the numbers; it’s about quality, equity, and efficiency. It’s about identifying high impact interventions that can maximize the benefits of existing interactions between families and health service providers – front line workers. And, it is about addressing nutrition, sanitation and other risk factors. Newborn deaths were given attention, not only because the majority of childhood deaths in India happen among newborns, but because we have community and facility interventions for mothers and their newborns that can be scaled up.
We discussed the importance of taking actions across the continuum of care— addressing reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCH +A) and nutrition needs. Among the highlights of the Summit were the national score card and dashboard, the knowledge sharing of innovative approaches taken by several states in India, such as technology enabled interpersonal communications tools, the “Mobile Kunj”, in Bihar, the supportive supervision model in Haryana, and the health systems building blocks in Tamil Nadu.
Creating a momentum for change, and mobilizing civil society and health providers in private and public sectors, the research community, and policymakers for child survival, requires strong leadership. And that is perhaps the most hopeful “takeaway” from this gathering.
India will need its champions in the private sector, in academia and among local leaders in order for the ambitious road map to successfully lead to —and exceed—the child survival targets. We are honored to be partners in this effort, and those of us attending the Summit, we left less impatient and more optimistic.