In June 2012, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF convened for A Promise Renewed: Child Survival Call to Action to reaffirm their shared commitment to scale up progress on child survival.
Based on the ethos that child survival is a shared responsibility that all individuals have a vital contribution to make, over 176 government, civil society organizations, private sector organizations and individuals signed a pledge to redouble their efforts and turn their commitments into advocacy.
Their promise to take action worked, and this year’s UNICEF reports states that fewer children have died this year than the previous year. In fact, with the work that UNICEF is doing in addition to government, organization and individual help, the number of child deaths has decreased every single year for the past fifty years.
300,000 fewer children died this year than last year, which is both uplifting and very important from a policy perspective. Melinda Gates from Impatient Optimists states,
“It tells us which children are still dying and what they’re dying from. For example, the report shows that adolescent mothers are more likely to give birth to premature babies (and are also at a greater risk of experiencing life-threatening complications). It also indicates we still have work to do delivering two relatively new vaccines for diarrhea and pneumonia, because they’re still the leading causes of death among children. And it proves we have to pay more attention to newborn health, because as we get better at saving older children a greater proportion of mortality happens in the first month of a baby’s life.”
With this year’s UNICEF report on children’s survival just released, it’s important to realize that although there have been less child deaths this year than the last, each child that dies is one child too many. The fact that diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children is unfortunate, especially because it’s preventable. There are health care systems and medicines that are available to most first world countries, but they need to be made available to reach families in third world countries as well.
In 2012, around 6.6 million children died before their fifth birthday, at a rate of around 18,000 per day. Diarrhea was responsible for killing almost 5,000 children under 5 years of age every day with malaria remaining an important cause of child death as well, killing 1,200 children every day.
“Accelerating progress in child survival urgently requires greater attention to ending preventable child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which together account for 4 out of 5 under-five deaths globally.”
– Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UNICEF
For this upcoming year, UNICEF is hoping to focus on children in the neonatal period (the first 28 days of life) as this period accounts for around 44% of the global under-five deaths. Most of the neonatal deaths occur in children already weakened by under nutrition. The bulk of these deaths occur in just a handful of countries, many of which are among the poorest in the world. Under the vision of the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD) UNICEF will work to eliminate preventable pneumonia and diarrhea deaths by 2025 and reduce associated morbidity. The plan will seek to accomplish their goals by promoting practices that are known to protect children from disease and by ensuring that every child has access to proven and appropriate preventative and treatment measures.
Simple oral rehydration salts (ORS) and daily zinc supplements for 10-14 days can help prevent death in children suffering from diarrhea and sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets can prevent becoming infected with malaria.
The health care and opportunities are out there, but it takes a global effort to end preventable child deaths. If you want to help draw attention to UNICEF’s fight for child survival, you can sign the Individual Pledge online to draw awareness to the cause and in turn, see that governments invest more in the children.
If you would like to learn more about A Promise Renewed, you can visit their website at www.APromiseRenewed.org.
Photos © UNICEF