Since 1978, when the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF co-sponsored a landmark International Conference on Primary Health Care, UNICEF has been forging partnerships with national governments and other key actors to develop and implement strategies that improve the health of children and women.
UNICEF, along with WHO, took the lead in the early 1980s in mobilizing the international community around a strategic set of low-cost, high-impact actions aimed at reducing the preventable deaths of children. Because of its success in reducing child deaths and improving health, this effort is popularly known as the child survival and development revolution. Efforts to promote growth monitoring, oral rehydration, breast-feeding, immunization against the major childhood killer diseases, birth spacing, food security and later, female education, became the cornerstone of UNICEF’s work in the health sector.
By the mid-1980s, universal child immunization became the lead activity in UNICEF health programmes. This helped strengthen health systems by creating awareness and demand, community outreach and social mobilization.
With the worsening of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, UNICEF began expanding its support to activities in the area of reproductive health, with a particular focus on preventing sexually-transmitted infections and HIV among adolescents.
A milestone in child health
The World Summit for Children in 1990 was a milestone for UNICEF’s efforts on child and maternal health. The largest group of world leaders ever convened until then identified a set of achievable goals for health, nutrition, education, water supply and sanitation, with the overarching goals of reducing infant and child mortality by at least one third and maternal mortality by 50 per cent. These goals charted a course for human development through the end of the decade. Some 155 countries prepared national programmes of action aimed at implementing the Summit goals. More than 100 countries conducted monitoring surveys with the help of many UN agencies, donors, universities, research organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
In the year 2000, a unique and symbolic moment, 189 Member States of the United Nations reaffirmed their shared duty to “all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.” They pledged to a set of specific goals for poverty reduction and sustainable development, the Millennium Development Goals.
The United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Children followed in 2002. Here, world leaders assessed progress since the World Summit and set additional goals specifically concerned with ensuring the rights of every child. Some 180 nations adopted the outcome document, 'A World Fit for Children'.
Based on more than two years of consensus building, this new agenda focuses on four key priorities: promoting healthy lives; providing quality education for all; protecting children against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS.
The way forward
The Millennium Development Goals and A World Fit for Children
Today, UNICEF’s health programme areas specifically address these goals pledged by the international community in the Millennium Development Goals and A World Fit for Children:
See more on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals here.