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Statement by Steven Allen, UNICEF Regional Director for the CEECIS, on the occasion of the MDG Summit 2010

Mr. Steven Allen, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States

For decades it was simply accepted that a baby born in an affluent community has a far greater chance of leading a longer and healthier life than one born in poverty. In spite of our efforts to build a brighter future for all children, this inequity was viewed as a harsh reality that was all but impossible to reverse.

The odds are stacked against children born in the poorest countries and communities. 

In the CEECIS Region there are as many as 160 million people considered vulnerable because they live on less than 5 dollars per day. It is becoming increasingly evident that large sections of the population are being left behind. A swelling number of children and women whose rights are violated are marginalised and excluded.

A decade ago, the world set eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at improving these terrible numbers by 2015. We’ve made progress. But in many areas, a close look at the numbers shows us that with progress have come widening disparities between the most and least deprived – for child mortality, sometimes by more than 10%.   

This week the world considered the MDGs 10 years after their adoption. The big question was: can we reach the goals faster?

The answer is we can - not just by spending more money but by spending it to greater effect.

That’s the lesson of “Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals,” a new study released in September by UNICEF. 

Carefully researched and peer-reviewed, “Narrowing the Gaps” offers more than a new analysis – it argues for a new approach. It disputes the common beliefs that we save more lives in poor communities by focusing on those more easily reachable and that focusing on the very poor as a first priority may be right in principle, but is wrong in practice.   

The outcome of UNICEF’s research shows that in this case, principle and practice are very closely linked. This “equity” focus - an approach aimed at the most deprived and disenfranchised - will save more children per dollar than common alternatives. 

Why? Partly because we have learned much about health since 2000—for example the way good nutrition in the first two years of life can avert the stunting that afflicts almost 200 million children in the developing world. Partly because new technology like cell phones allow us to communicate with the most isolated villages on the planet.

The combination means we can now more efficiently deliver low-tech ways to help the poorest communities.  For example, to help prevent hundreds of thousands of women dying during pregnancy and in childbirth each year, often because they give birth without skilled help, we can train non-physicians to assist. 

An equity focus doesn’t mean abandoning the many worthwhile projects underway. It suggests effective ways to build on them. The UNICEF study’s modeling shows that if we build on them by focusing future efforts on the poorest people and the poorest areas, we will achieve dramatic results.

By 2015, every $1 million shifted to this new approach in the poorest communities could save the lives of about 60% more children every year.

While every country desperately needs more money for health care, this approach offers more health care for the money we already have. The policy implications that follow from what we found offer sustainable new opportunity to save and help many more children.

At UNICEF we have already begun to move where the facts lead us. We see results in simple things: the drop of polio vaccine squeezed onto a child’s tongue in Tajikistan, where we helped head off an epidemic; assisting disabled children in Bulgaria and Montenegro; or getting girls into school in Turkey.

In the final five years of the MDGs - a mission created with such hope, and carried on with such dedication -- we urge our partners to help the most children by focusing on those who need help the most.

And we urge readers to recognize that the fate of these children is linked to the fate of our own.  In order to create a better world for all of our children – regardless of where they were born – we must even the odds. This new study offers a bold vision of a world in which poverty need no longer be a life sentence for any child.



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