Centre de presse


To Rotary International Convention's Plenary Session

Image de l'UNICEF

San Antonio - 27 June 2001

President Devlyn, President-elect King, Chairman Brown, Vice Chairman Coultas, Rotarians from Around the World:

What a joy it is to be here! I have not had the privilege of addressing such a multitude of Rotarians since Rotary International's meeting in Nice, France - and that was six long years ago. There is an old saying that it is always a delight to be reunited with friends who have come from afar. For UNICEF, that delight is compounded when those friends are Rotarians.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the volunteerism exemplified by Rotary International is an engine for renewal and change in every society - and it is that same volunteer spirit, rooted in compassion and a profound sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings, that offers so much hope for the future.

Those who lend hands-on support to national immunisation campaigns against polio and other childhood diseases; who help in humanitarian emergencies and a myriad other situations; and who advocate, teach, raise funds and stir public awareness - all are in the forefront of improving the human condition. And that service must of necessity begin with children, for the future of every country is inextricably bound up with the well-being of its children and the fulfilment of their rights.

The great anthropologist Margaret Mead understood the power that drives organisations like Rotary International. It is a power strong enough to move mountains. "Never doubt," she said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world."

"Indeed," she added, "it is the only thing that ever has."

My Friends, a more concise description of Rotary International's purpose cannot be imagined. You are all Goodwill Ambassadors for Children. As stalwart partners of UNICEF, all of you have made - and continue to make - a world of difference for children everywhere.

Only once in human history have we witnessed the total eradication of a dread disease, and that was smallpox more than two decades ago. Now we are close to a second triumph - eradicating the dreaded childhood scourge of polio - and we have come this far because of a global coalition in which Rotary International has played a leading role for a decade and a half.
Thanks in part to the thousands of hours of hard work by Rotary volunteers - and a financial commitment that is approaching the half-billion dollar mark - and hundreds of millions of children have been immunised against the ravages of polio.

Mr. President, I have seen first-hand how Rotary's contributions have helped ensure the success of National Immunisation Days all over the African continent, and how precious those contributions are to children in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Rotary International contributed $500,000 for an emergency airlift to deliver polio vaccine to several remote regions.

I have seen the results of Rotary's contributions to polio eradication efforts in India, where Rotarians joined other volunteers - 150,000 in all - to immunise 130 million children in just two days. And I have seen how the momentum of polio immunisation has helped UNICEF and its partners speed the distribution of vitamin A supplements, which both protect children and promote maternal health.

There are literally tens of thousands of Rotarians I would like to thank on UNICEF's behalf. Let me mention a few by name. First, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Sargeant, without whose vision and energy Rotary's polio campaign might never have become the institution it is.

I also want to salute Herb Pigman, Dr. Richard Slager and Dr. Bob Scott, who have helped UNICEF maximise its contributions to the polio campaign. In this connection, we are particularly pleased that six UNICEF National Committees are assisting with the Polio Private Sector Campaign. And I want to acknowledge the fine work by the team that represents Rotary International at the United Nations, led by Bob Coultas with the assistance of Sylvan Barnet, Don Treimann, Andrew Morzello, and Joan Fyfe.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is no exaggeration to say that without the millions of volunteers who lend their skills and their energies to the cause of children, the contributions of UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, governments and other partners would have been greatly diminished. Instead we can point with pride to the successes of the last decade - successes that began when the entire community of nations vowed to fulfil the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children, including actions to ensure the right of every child to the highest attainable standard of health.

My Friends, the movement that gave the world the Convention on the Rights of the Child helped bring about the greatest advances in child immunisation ever achieved - successes literally unimaginable two decades ago, when just 5 per cent of infants in developing countries were immunised against polio and the five other major vaccine-preventable diseases.

The drive for Universal Child Immunisation that UNICEF, WHO and other international partners began in 1986 elevated global immunisation rates to nearly 80 percent by the early 1990s. As a result, under-5 deaths caused by vaccine-preventable diseases dropped by 3 million a year, with measles deaths reduced by 80 per cent - and maternal and neonatal tetanus eliminated in over 100 countries.

There are more children in school than ever before. And thanks to the heightened sensitivity created by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, child protection issues are being systematically exposed, and action taken to overcome them, from hazardous and exploitative child labour and the trafficking and abuse of children, to children in armed conflict and other forms of violence, much of it gender-based.

My Friends, these achievements demonstrate, as powerfully as anything can, what can be accomplished when national commitments and partnerships are matched by resources and political will. Yet for all the millions of young lives that have been saved, and for all the futures that have been enhanced, most of the World Summit goals remain unfulfilled.

We are still far from achieving the one-third reduction in child mortality that governments promised in 1990. In fact, the overall rate of decline has slowed - and in many countries, the mortality rate for children under five has actually increased, thanks to the combined impact of HIV/AIDS, the collapse of health systems weakened by the effects of armed conflict and debt, and the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria.

Because we have failed to ensure that children have access to proper nutrition and care, an estimated 150 million children around the world are malnourished.

Because we have failed to ensure universal access to maternal health care, nearly 600,000 women still die each year of complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

Because we have failed to fulfil the commitment to provide a quality basic education for all, more than 100 million children are still not in school - and 60 per cent of them are girls, who are thus denied the chance to make the most of their abilities, and are deprived of the capacity to make informed life choices, such as what they must do to protect themselves and their families against HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Yet UNICEF believes that the world now stands at the most opportune moment imaginable for finally reaching the Summit goals - and for mobilising a global alliance dedicated to achieving a breakthrough in human development based on specific actions for children.

My Friends, I have every confidence that the world will soon celebrate the final eradication of polio. But to ensure a polio-free world in the shortest possible time, we will have to meet three challenges: we must secure access to immunise all children, including those trapped in war zones and remote areas. Second, we must have the financial resources from the public and private sectors to close a $400 million global funding gap for polio eradication. And third, we must help ensure that the political commitment to the conquest of polio remains high, in both endemic and polio-free countries.

There is also reason to hope that we may see real gains in the fight against other communicable diseases that affect children, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Last July, the eight major industrialised democracies committed themselves to the Okinawa Initiative on Infectious Diseases, vowing to mobilise the resources necessary to mount a major health offensive. This is a vitally important step because some 60 per cent of all under-5 deaths are caused by communicable diseases.

All this comes at a time when a cornucopia of revolutionary new vaccines is under development - vaccines that could save the lives of up to 8 million additional children a year in the next 5 to 15 years alone. Made universally accessible along with existing immunisations, these new vaccines, added to micronutrients like vitamin A, could make an enormous difference to the world's poorest countries in coming years - not only in terms of children's lives saved, but in improving the overall health of the poor - including the 1.2 billion people, half of them children, who are somehow surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Building on the National Immunisation Days, UNICEF and its partners are working to reach remote communities with a whole package of health services, including not only new and improved vaccines, but vitamin A and other micronutrient supplements, impregnated bednets, deworming - as well as vaccines and other supplies to cope with epidemics of diseases like meningitis and yellow fever.

We are also working to improve the access, affordability, quality, and welcoming atmosphere of health services for adolescent girls and women, especially in antenatal and delivery care. It is an effort aimed specifically at reducing maternal and neonatal mortality - and at preventing HIV infection in adolescents and young children.

And we have a Copenhagen-based supply and logistics operation that is unrivaled - and that has been designated by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) to be the procurement point for hundreds of millions in new vaccines over the next five years.

In short, UNICEF and its partners have the strategies and the tools - in new health technologies, health promotion possibilities, and information and communications systems - that will allow us to promote health care in every village and hamlet. And, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have the moral and legal grounds to act.

We also know so much more today about how best to ensure the rights of children and address their needs. Certainly one of the biggest advances in knowledge, borne out by the latest scientific research and affirmed by years of practical experience, is that what happens to children in the earliest years of their lives is pivotal not only to their well-being and development, but to the future of all our societies.

The need to protect and nurture children in early childhood should merit the highest priority when governments make decisions about laws, policies, programmes and money. Yet, tragically, both for children and for countries, these are the years that receive the least attention.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the future is in our hands as never before. In a $30 trillion global economy, it is clear that the knowledge, the resources and the strategies already exist to give children the best possible start in life, to ensure that every girl and boy receives a primary education of good quality; and to help them navigate the complex passage from adolescence to adulthood - all essential first steps if we are to break the endless cycle of global poverty.

In the last 10 years, we have seen remarkable progress for children - but not nearly enough. What we need now is action - action to achieve not only the commitments that were made a decade ago, but to launch nothing less than a second revolution in child survival - a revolution aimed not only at saving lives, but at imbuing those lives with dignity and worth, in a world based on equity.

That is why UNICEF is calling on governments to reduce the burden of external debt so that impoverished countries can invest in children instead of debt service; and why we are urging them to redirect resources within their national budgets for early childhood development programmes. It is why the global community must work harder to end armed conflict, and ensure that resources are invested in children, not armaments. It is why we are calling on leaders at all levels to redouble their efforts to end discrimination against women.

It is why we are asking governments, civil society organisations and the private sector, including corporations and the media industry, to join in waging an all-out battle against the spread of HIV/AIDS. And it is why UNICEF is working to mobilise governments and citizens of every nation, including families, communities, and civil society organisations, to carry the banner of a Global Movement for Children - a world-wide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth.

Each and every one of you is already helping. But there is something very practical that you can also do while you are here at this Convention - and that is to visit the US Fund for UNICEF booth, where you can cast your vote in the Say Yes for Children campaign.

The Say Yes campaign, which has already been formally launched in more than 40 countries, is an opportunity for every citizen on earth to pick three priority actions for children that they would most like to see implemented. You can chooses from a list of 10 - and the results will be delivered to world leaders in September when they arrive at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children. My Friends, Say Yes for Children is your chance to tell them what you think they should be doing for children in the coming decade - and beyond.

And while we're still on the subject of specific priority actions for children, I have some exciting news. I am pleased to report that in support of the polio eradication appeal to the private sector launched last September - a joint venture by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International and the United Nations Foundation - the US Fund for UNICEF has decided to donate every dollar and cent of the proceeds from its "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" campaign to polio eradication efforts for the next two years.

Trick or Treat for UNICEF, with its orange and black collection boxes made from school milk containers, has been an indelible tradition for children at Halloween in this part of the world since it began 50 years ago, when UNICEF itself was still in its infancy. And so it seems altogether fitting that half a century later, that same Halloween campaign should focus on eradicating a dreaded childhood disease.

We also are inviting the Canadian Committee for UNICEF to join in this effort - and I invite all Rotarians to join in encouraging new generations of children to take part in this two-year Trick or Treat initiative.

My Friends, the overall polio eradication initiative is proof of the galvanising power of partnerships for children - and the potential reach of those partnerships was affirmed last year in Johannesburg, when Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel announced that they would assume a direct and personal role in mobilising leaders from every sphere to act on a basic recognition -that if we want a more just, equitable and thriving world, we must invest in children now, acting always in their best interest.

As Graça Machel declared, all of us have a responsibility to use our position and influence to mobilise universal support for a new global vision for children - one that makes the benefits of globalisation accessible to every child. There is no more noble undertaking, as you well know - and that is why I am confident that UNICEF can count on each and every Rotarian.

Thank you.