Today in the developing world more than 11,000 children–especially those under the age of five—will die. These deaths are largely caused by preventable disease and neonatal conditions that can also be prevented. In all, that number totals 4.4 million children a year. That number, while explosively high, is significantly down 70 percent from 20 years ago. Now, the global health community is pushing to reduce child mortality to 2 million deaths per year by 2035. While it will not be easy, it is certainly achievable.
The issue of child survival was front and center last week as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), participating governments, the faith community, and donor nations discussed how to keep more children alive in areas of the world where children die far too often from preventable reasons. These important discussions and panels are taking place at the Child Survival Call to Action event being held at Georgetown University and brought together by USAID, UNICEF, and the governments of Ethiopia and India.
During the first day of the Child Survival Call to Action event we heard from Secretary Clinton, Dr. Raj Shah (Administrator of USAID), Health Ministers for both Ethiopia and India, Ben Affleck (founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative), and other global leaders in the fight against preventable child deaths. Everyone agreed that developing countries need organized support to keep more of their children alive in addition to transparency and accountable to make faster improvements in child survival. Five countries–India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, and Ethiopia–account for 50 percent of child deaths and 24 developing countries account for 80 percent of global child deaths.
How will these 24 countries, particularly the five that see the most child deaths, boost child survival? A concerted effort by civil society, governments, faith-based communities, and private sector leaders will need to be embarked upon to make measurable reductions in child mortality. Larger vaccine rollouts will prevent pneumonia, diarrhea, and measles deaths. More insecticide-treated bed nets will keep children from getting bitten by the deadly Anopheles mosquitoes and dying from malaria. And increased innovations in maternal health and neonatal care in these developing countries will keep mothers and their children alive. These efforts will then need to be scaled to significantly reduce child mortality particularly in the five countries where more children die than anywhere else.
While there is much work to be done, there are countries that have been making strong reductions in child mortality. “Malawi is on track for MDG4,” said Joy Lawn from Save the Children. “People were investing in maternal health and they made sure that when things were being done for mothers they were also being done for babies.” This is critical as 40 percent of child deaths occur from neonatal complications.
Thus far a roadmap has been developed to reduce mortality in the developing world and a new web site, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed (http://www.apromiserenewed.org) was launched to elicit government and interfaith pledges to significantly improve child survival.
Data Resource: Child Survival Call to Action: Ending Preventable Child Deaths: Summary Roadmap Version 1, June 14, 2012