On day two, events at MDG summit spotlight AIDS, nutrition, partnerships – and equity
21 September 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on day two of the UN Millennium Summit in New York.
By Tim Ledwith
NEW YORK, USA, 21 September 2010 – UNICEF took part in a packed agenda of side events during the second day of the UN Summit to review the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), spotlighting progress made and challenges ahead on HIV and AIDS, child health and nutrition. The global summit is being held as part of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Achieving the MDGs with equity was a recurring theme throughout the day. UNICEF’s recent ‘Progress for Children’ report concluded that an equity-based approach, targeting the poorest of the poor, offers the greatest hope of meeting the development goals by their 2015 target date.
As UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake noted at one of today’s events: “We need to focus our efforts on scaling up the practical, cost-effective, community-based interventions that are best designed to reach the women and children in greatest need.”
Preventing HIV transmission
The day began with a high-level panel discussion on eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Among the panellists were leaders and experts from UNICEF, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The effort to accelerate progress on prevention of mother-to-child transmission cuts across elements of MDGs 4, 5 and 6, which focus on reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating major preventable diseases, respectively.
The panellists pointed out that HIV remains a leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally and among young children in countries with high prevalence rates. More than 1,000 children under five in the developing world are newly infected with HIV every day via transmission during pregnancy, labour and delivery, and breastfeeding.
Still, hope was in the air at the panel. Among other positive signs, the rate of new HIV infections is dropping worldwide – especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic.
“Even a few years ago, in a place like South Africa or Zambia or Ethiopia, an HIV diagnosis during pregnancy was more than likely a double death sentence for mother and baby. But that has begun to change,” said Mr. Lake.
“HIV prevalence among children under one year of age has decreased from 13.5 percent in 2006 to 7 per cent in 2009,” reported Namibian President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba, referring to prevalence rates in his country.
The role of women
The beginnings of this turnaround on HIV and AIDS have resulted from more and earlier HIV testing, and a strengthened continuum of care for mothers and children living with HIV.
Another cause for hope is the involvement of women themselves. To underscore that point, the panel heard from Babalwa Mbono, a mother living with HIV in Capetown, South Africa, who counsels other women on preventing HIV transmission to their children.
Ms. Mbono said she looked forward to the day when every baby is born free of HIV and mothers living with the virus “are healthy and strong, and can live long to look after their families.”
Impact of undernutrition
The needs of mothers and children also took centre stage at today’s MDG-summit event on undernutrition, one of the world’s most serious but least addressed problems. Organised by the US State Department and the Government of Ireland, the event focused on a 1,000-day ‘window of opportunity’ for preventing undernutrition – the period beginning with a woman’s pregnancy and continuing until a child is two years old.
Evidence shows that a child who is well nourished for this critical period will have a healthier and more productive future.
Improving child nutrition is in line with MDG 1, which calls for halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger worldwide. It is linked to the other goals, as well, since inadequate nutrition early in life causes irreversible damage to children’s physical and intellectual development, impeding progress on the MDGs as a whole.
“A failure to address the hunger dimension of MDG 1 will erode all of our efforts across the full range of MDGs,” noted Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin T.D.
Partnerships are key
Throughout the discussions today, participants emphasised the critical importance of partnerships in the final, five-year push to meet the development goals. And one of the day’s events – a roundtable on working with communities to achieve the MDGs with equity – explored the key role of partnerships in depth.
Organised by World Vision International, Plan International and Save the Children International, the ‘Five Years for Chidren’ roundtable at UNICEF headquarters brought together senior leaders of these global child-focused organisations to identify collaborative actions that can bring results for every child. They paid special attention to delivering for the poorest and most excluded children who are still being left behind.
Plan International Chief Executive Officer Nigel Chapman identified gender inequity as one area requiring more effort. “We’ve got to raise the profile of the disparity between girls and boys,” he said. “The evidence is very strong that when you do invest in girls … the payback is disproportionately high.”
Mr. Chapman’s point reinforced UNICEF’s central message of equity at the MDG summit. With five years left to realise the promise of the UN Millennium Declaration, an equity-based approach can help to ensure that all children have their needs met and their rights fulfilled, no matter where they live.
Anja Baron, Nina Martinek, Chris Niles, Vivian Siu and Tanya Turkovich contributed to this story...............................................................................................
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