India’s Call to Action for Child Survival and Development - Talking points for the Leadership Dialogue
· It has been an exciting two days. There is a palpable sense of energy and excitement in the room.
· It is all the more striking and significant when we reflect on how we reached this remarkable moment in time. The road to the India Call to Action began last year, in DC, when Minister Azad joined his counterparts from the Governments of Ethiopia and the US in signing a pledge…a pledge that committed their respective governments to make every possible effort to accelerate declines in preventable child deaths.
· Over 170 other governments followed India’s lead by signing the pledge. Each pledge represents a powerful commitment to fulfill the world’s promise to children – the promise to give every child the best possible start in life.
· But the question we keep asking ourselves is what is different this time? Based on what we’ve seen and heard over the past two days, I think we can say that it is the sense of personal commitment…personal conviction…to do all we can to stop children and women from dying from causes that are so easily prevented and treated. And, the acknowledgement that no one government department…no one development actor…no one individual can do this alone. We need a collective commitment.
· This Call to Action is different because this time we are calling for real political leadership --- not just from the central government, but from state governments, CSOs, from the private sector.... We are calling on each and every State government to look at their data, undertake an analysis of the causes and distribution of under-five mortality, and maybe even hold events such as this one… all with the goal of putting in place measurable benchmarks for high-impact strategies that will contribute to an annual rate of decline of 7.2 per cent…for all states. Anuradha Gupta rightly said, “every state can do better….Good is not good enough when better is possible.”
· This goal is ambitious but it is also attainable. To achieve it, we need multiple interventions to work together simultaneously …we need to work across technical areas…across the government ministries responsible for nutrition, water and sanitation, health, and other sectors that impact outcomes for women and children.
· And we need to pay close attention to the social determinants of child survival, particularly education of girls, empowerment of women and using communication tools to influence and change the health behavior of women and families.
· And, we need to place greater emphasis on sustainability….despite our success in the 1990s, here we are here again because we didn’t sustain our efforts the first time around. This time, we need to combine our efforts and engage communities to create a social movement for child survival, one that demands permanent change. Ultimately, it is the citizens of each country who will determine whether or not we fulfill our commitment to give every child the best possible chance to survive and thrive.
· We need to work with civil society… not just the professional civil society organizations based in urban centres, though they are important too, but the civil society organizations that play such an integral role in the daily lives of the most disadvantaged women and children….the civil society organizations that represent the socially excluded segments of society.
· And, we need to work with the private sector and India Inc….. By investing in research and development, encouraging domestic manufacturing, and shaping global markets, private sector entities play an enormous role in increasing the availability, affordability and quality of life-saving commodities and medicines. Through partnerships brokered by entities like the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, we are finding innovative solutions to age-old problems.
· To fulfill the promise that is inherent in all of the characteristics that make this Call to Action different from all of those that have happened in the past, we here in UNICEF commit to increase our operational capacity at the state level in support of priority districts, where the burden of mortality is the highest, particularly our capacity in communication for changing social norms and behaviors.
· We commit to support the efforts of the national government by increasing the quality and availability of the evidence and analysis needed to strengthen your efforts. Working with partners, we will continue to develop tools for monitoring progress by identifying the bottlenecks and barriers that diminish the efficacy of high-impact interventions. And, as presented yesterday, with development partners, we are also doing a global review of evidence on social and behavioral change. This evidence will inform and strengthen the actions that need to be taken to increase demand for essential, life-saving interventions.
· We also commit to use our convening power, together with that of the government. We look forward to working with you to bring together civil society organizations and the private sector, raising their profile as active agents of change. We will use the media, including the latest social media platforms, to shine a light on Minister Azad’s global and national leadership, to amplify the call for child survival and mobilize broad-based social support for advocacy and action that reinforces the goals that you’ve set for yourselves.
· And, of course, UNICEF will continue to support the Government of India in its effort to scale-up high-impact strategies and innovations through our country programme, with its focus on neonatal mortality, nutrition, sanitation, quality basic education and protecting children from the risks of child marriage, child labour and exploitation, focusing throughout on adolescents as the next generation that will lead permanent socio-economic change in India…..
· And, focusing too, on the hardest to reach women and children: the youngest, the poorest and the marginalized and excluded. Most of them belong to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minority groups, and/or below poverty line households.
· We know that child survival improves when these children in particular are protected from the deadly risks posed by malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhoea, low birth weight, and unclean water and sanitation facilities; when mothers are educated and empowered to seek appropriate health care on their own behalf and that of their children.
· With its commitment to inclusive growth, as highlighted in successive national strategies, and renewed political commitment to the survival and well-being of women and children, the Government of India is poised to deliver on its promise to give every child in India the best possible start in life. We couldn’t be more pleased to join you on this historic journey.