The commitment to child survival is as old as UNICEF. In the 1940s and 1950s, UNICEF provided food and basic health interventions to children in war-torn countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, UNICEF expanded its work into every developing nation where children's lives were at risk. In the 1980s, UNICEF helped inspire a global child survival 'revolution'. And in the 1990s, UNICEF led efforts to help the world achieve the first set of goals focused on children's health and well-being.
Today UNICEF continues its focus on saving children's lives and improving their chances of becoming productive citizens. Underpinning the Millennium Development Goals, UNICEF's priorities are central to the programme of action adopted by the nations of the world at the UN Special Session on Children in 2002.
This report addresses the fourth Millennium Development Goal which aims for a two-thirds reduction of under-five mortality rates between 1990 and 2015. It reveals global gains in child survival since 1990, but also significant discrepancies within and across countries and regions.
The 50 per cent reduction in under-five mortality between 1960 and 2000 represents great progress, but much more needs to be done. A number of factors contribute to persistent child mortality – the estimated 11 million totally preventable child deaths that still occur every year. Some are the direct results of illness – acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, malaria, measles – and others are due to indirect causes such as conflict, marginalization and HIV/AIDS. Malnutrition and the lack of safe water and sanitation contribute to more than half of these deaths.
The world knows what it takes to improve child health and survival, and that millions of young children can be saved by basic, cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and improved breastfeeding practices. Yet millions of the world's young citizens still die because they lack access to basic services.
UNICEF's 60 years of experience tell us that we can turn back child mortality and meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Already, we've seen that vitamin A supplementation can save over a quarter of a million lives a year; oral rehydration therapy can prevent 1 million deaths; and immunization programmes can protect the lives of nearly 4 million children.
Over the last 20 years, UNICEF has made tremendous progress in addressing child mortality by fighting its underlying causes and working to change the world for children by mobilizing every stratum of society – from local community groups to Heads of State.
Progress For Children will be a critical tool – a report card to measure progress in the lead up to 2015 – in the fight to save millions of children's lives and ensure their healthy future. UNICEF will release these studies periodically to ensure that children are at the centre of the global development agenda.
Executive Director, UNICEF