At global gathering, says health efforts alone are not enough
CANCUN, Mexico, 17 August 2004 – UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told leading pediatricians gathered here this week that they are crucial to efforts to improve child survival, saying that they must advocate for action that goes beyond traditional health initiatives to address the more complex causes underlying entrenched child mortality.
Nearly 11 million children die before the age of five every year, most from preventable causes. More than half of those lives could be saved by simple prevention and treatment measures that are already available in every country.
Addressing more than 7,000 pediatricians at their quadrennial convention, including the heads of dozens of national pediatric associations, Bellamy said that poverty, discrimination, and marginalization of minority groups are crucial factors preventing basic health from reaching every child.
“The world cannot defeat entrenched poverty and huge social disparities through economic development efforts alone,” Bellamy said. “Similarly, we are at a stage where we cannot make major reductions in child and maternal mortality through initiatives in the health sector alone. To reach these crucial goals, enlightened political leadership is necessary. Leadership that is willing to recognize underlying causes and take appropriate steps to confront them.”
She then called on pediatricians to be advocates for policy reforms and attitude changes that break patterns of discrimination and enable health efforts to reach the unreached.
“Pediatricians can make a difference by speaking out not only about the symptoms but also about the causes of these avoidable deaths and lost human potential. It is an effort in which we need you to raise your voices to ensure that the rights of all children are fulfilled.”
Bellamy argued that to make lasting progress in child survival, partners involved in the effort must understand that a healthy childhood has many facets. She said perhaps no health practitioners understand that better than pediatricians.
“You know that an immunized child who is beaten or abused is not a healthy child. You know that a healthy child who never goes to school will not stay healthy for long. You know that intelligent children who are marginalized because of prejudice will never reach their potential. And you know that keeping a child alive, healthy, well-nourished, and protected is not a job for Health Ministries alone,” she declared.
She said education and protection of children, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS, are crucial parallel tracks to be pursued even as health initiatives are reinvigorated globally.
Goals to Reach
Bellamy cited several recent and upcoming developments that are strengthening the global focus on child survival.
“We have learned that the health interventions that have the greatest potential to save children’s lives are those that rely on action and knowledge in the household itself, especially in poor households beyond the reach of professional care,” Bellamy observed. “This means strengthening health systems with renewed investment but also extending basic care from the health center into the home, empowering families to do more of what’s needed to keep children healthy.”
Bellamy emphasized that meeting the child survival target set at the Millennium Summit in 2000 would not be easy, especially for countries that have struggled with AIDS and conflict, or which have squandered resources and time. But she argued that sustainable human development is not possible without fundamental improvement in the lives and well-being of children.
“In the world we are striving for,” she said, “children not only survive, but are mentally alert, emotionally secure, socially competent, and able to acquire the knowledge they need to be physically healthy and productive adults.”
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UNICEF will publish “Progress for Children,” a country-by-country summary of progress in child survival, in early October 2004.
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