At General Assembly event, a call for equity and action on development goals
By Roshni Karwal
NEW YORK, USA, 23 September 2008 – On the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly session yesterday, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said there is a long way to go to reach the Millennium Development Goals by their 2015 target date. And the challenges are greatest in countries dealing with conflict and post-conflict situations, as well as those most affected by HIV.
Veneman’s comments came at a high-level discussion on the MDGs and ‘the challenge of equity’. They were reinforced by Executive Secretary Julian Lob-Levyt of the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on extending the reach and quality of immunisation coverage for children in the poorest countries.
“Whilst we have made progress,” he said, “we need to move faster towards the MDGs. There is not question about that.”
Veneman and Lob-Levyt served on an expert panel that examined how support for basic health services – through innovative financing and new technologies – can help to address health inequities based on gender, geography, ethnicity and politics.
The event was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United Nations and by UNAIDS, in collaboration with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; GAVI; and UNICEF.
Other panellists included Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, H.E. Dr. Tedros Adhanom; Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine; UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot; and journalist Andrew Jack of the Financial Times, who moderated the panel.
Progress on child survival
Veneman highlighted the progress that UNICEF and its partners have made towards achieving the MDG target on rates of mortality for children under the age of five. According to data released last week, she noted, the number of children under five who died in 2007 dropped to 9.2 million, compared to 12.7 million in 1990.
Since 1960, the global under-five mortality rate has declined more than 60 per cent, and the new data show that downward trend continuing, Veneman added.
UNICEF’s Chief of Health, Dr. Peter Salama, said the decline in child mortality was largely due to improved maternal health care and disease prevention and control programs.
Access to life-saving resources
The panellists agreed that one intervention – immunisation – has proven highly successful and cost-effective in saving children’s lives throughout the developing world. Childhood immunisation coverage for the six major vaccine-preventable diseases – diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus and tuberculosis – rose from less than 5 per cent in 1974 to more that 75 per cent in 2006.
As the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF is a key partner in global immunisation efforts. In the last decade, immunisation is the only public health intervention that has consistently reached over 70 per cent of children under five. And there is the potential for an even greater impact.
“There are a quarter of a million deaths that could be prevented by vaccines,” said Lob-Levyt.
Work to be done
The panel called for an increased level of access to life-saving resources – including vaccines, as well as anti-retroviral drugs for HIV infection, bed nets to prevent malaria, and more health information – for millions of people in developing countries. Of particular concern, they said, are children and families who are the hardest to reach, the most impoverished and the most marginalised.
Veneman stressed that there is much more work to be done on child survival and the other MDG targets – especially in Asia, which accounts for 42 per cent of under-five deaths, and Africa, which has 51 per cent. She urged greater attention to low-income urban populations, maternal health and mortality, and education and communication at the community level.
To make achievement of the MDGs possible, Veneman concluded, humanitarian and development partners must focus on integrated approaches using solid data and good mechanisms for evaluation of their work.