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UNICEF and Child Survival

UNICEF welcomes and supports an important series of articles on child survival published in the medical journal Lancet. The series began with the Lancet edition of 27 June 2003.

The series highlights the fact that more than 10 million children die each year under the age of five, most from causes which are preventable. The articles, to which UNICEF contributed, explore where these deaths are occurring, what the causes are, what solutions we can apply, and the kind of efforts needed to further reduce child deaths.

The Lancet Series on Child Survival

In the 1980s, great strides were made in child survival through the investment in basic health systems, including the strengthening of health centres at local level. UNICEF believes the primary challenge today is to move beyond the health centre and bring basic survival knowledge, skills and supplies into the home.

The Lancet papers support our belief that the three actions that would most contribute to a decline in child mortality today are exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and correct weaning practices, the use of bed nets to protect children from malaria-carrying mosquito bites, and the use of oral re-hydration salts to fight diarrhoea. All of these require knowledge, action, and resources in the individual home.

This UNICEF web special devoted to the issue of child survival contains links to the world’s agreed goals for children, country and global statistics, recent UNICEF studies and reports on the subject, and other resources. These tools add depth and background to the Lancet series.

UNICEF’s Lasting Commitment

Child survival lies at the heart of everything UNICEF does and we believe every child has the right to grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity. Keeping children alive and healthy, and enabling them to learn and thrive all the way through adolescence is and imperative for every country and entails obligations for every Government. Based on its 60 years of practical experience and analysis, UNICEF continues to innovate.

In 2002 more than half of UNICEF’s annual expenditure went to programs focused on child health and survival in the earliest years of life. Such programs emphasize breastfeeding, immunization, basic health care, water and sanitation, fundamental nutrition, the loving care of children that fosters learning and good development.

This commitment to child survival is as old as UNICEF. In the 1940s and 1950s, UNICEF help provide food and basic health to children in war-torn countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, UNICEF expanded its work into virtually every developing nation where children’s lives were at risk. In the 1980s, UNICEF helped inspire a campaign to put child survival on the global agenda. And in the 1990s UNICEF led efforts to help the world achieve its first set of global goals focused on the health and well-being of children.

Last year, UNICEF spearheaded the UN Special Session on Children, a major world summit devoted to finding out what progress the world made for children in the 1990s, and to set new goals for the years ahead. Read about the progress made in the last decade in the Special Session press room.

UNICEF Priorities

Today UNICEF has five priorities, all of which focus on saving children’s lives and improving their chances of becoming productive citizens. UNICEF priorities underpin the Millennium Development Goals and are central to the programme of action adopted by the nations of the world at the UN Special Session on Children 2002.

UNICEF’s first priority is early childhood care. The early years form the foundation of a child’s health, cognitive development, and habits. UNICEF supports a wide range of programs that ensure children in these critical years benefit from good health care, sound nutrition, clean water and decent hygiene, as well as quality health care and support for their mothers. UNICEF’s country programme experience leads the way in showing that future strategies for child survival must give greater emphasis to home based care for poor children, better integration among systems that deliver basic supplies and services to the poorest families and concerted efforts to overcome discrimination against women and excluded communities.

The second is immunization. UNICEF is the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines, procuring more than 40 per cent of all vaccines used in the developing world. While global immunization rates have risen from less than 20 per cent in the 1970s to about 74 per cent in 2002, millions of children must still be reached. UNICEF negotiates favourable prices and forecasts vaccines requirements to ensure sustainable supplies. More than half of UNICEF’s programme spending supports these first two priorities.

But survival is just the beginning for children. UNICEF works with developing countries to help them to plan for their children’s futures, by developing policies and programmes to support their right to a good quality education, and the guidance, support and protection children need to reach adulthood.

UNICEF’s third priority is education for all children, with a special emphasis on girls. Of the 110 million children who are not in school today, the majority are girls. However, we know that girl’s education is the one of the very best ways to spend development dollars. When girls are educated as equals with boys, their own children have improved chances of survival, and are more likely to grow up healthy and educated. This cyclical impact of education on child survival is an important ingredient in UNICEF’s multi-pronged approach.

Our fourth priority is preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among young people. Although AIDS is not a major killer of children under five, it does have a significant impact on the chances of child survival. Statistics show a steady rise of child mortality in the countries worst affected by HIV/AIDS. In addition, more than 14 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, leaving them with diminished chances of reaching adulthood. And HIV is eroding both basic health systems and traditional community coping mechanisms. It must be stopped in order for the world to have any real chance of making sustainable progress in child survival.

UNICEF’s final priority is the protection of children from exploitation, abuse and violence – an issue we are proud to have put on the map in the 1990s. Although in most cases this priority does not directly enhance a child’s chance of survival in the first years, UNICEF believes protection is integral to keeping children alive and healthy as they grow to adolescence. Millions of children suffer in sweatshops, as child soldiers, in sexual exploitation, and in conflict. UNICEF spends only about 10 per cent of its program budget on protecting children from these evils, relying more heavily on advocacy and legislative change.


Special Session on Children May 2002
State of the World's Children Report 2002: Leadership
State of the World's Children Report 2001: Early Childhood
Press releases and daily briefing notes

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UNICEF and Kiwanis International work together to create a world fit for children

Kiwanis International’s work to eliminate iodine deficiencies (IDD) worldwide drew praise from key governmental organizations and child advocates during the conference “Working to Create A World Fit for Children: A Global Priority” in June 2003. The conference was part of the 88th Annual Kiwanis International Convention.

Kul Gautam, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director emphasized the importance of investing in early child survival and said that because of Kiwanis’ efforts, three out of every four children born in the developing world today are protected from IDD and significant losses in learning capacity.

Kiwanis International Conference on Children

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