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UNICEF, WHO pledge to continue work on global health issues threatening children

NEW YORK, 15 September 2003 - In her first public briefing with Dr. Jong Wook Lee since his appointment as WHO Director General, Carol Bellamy today warned that the two agencies were witnessing a “great gulf” open in child survival between the developed and developing worlds.

While many of children in industrialised societies are healthier than ever before, death rates for children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa have almost doubled from 2.3 to 4.5 million annually.

“This situation is entirely unacceptable,” she said, “Because the world has the know-how and the resources to help these children survive and thrive through adolescence.”

The vast inequities exist, Bellamy said, because too many children and their families don’t have access to basic health education and care. Millions die every year from acute respiratory infections for lack of cheap antibiotics. Diarrhoea, which would not trouble a child in the developed world, can kill a weak and malnourished infant in a matter of hours. Even childbirth is a potentially fatal risk for millions of women, killing one in 13 in the developing world, as opposed to one in 4,000 in industrialized countries.

In this environment, the greatest challenge for governments and agencies is to bring basic life-saving knowledge and commodities into the home - treated bednets to protect against malaria, Oral Rehydration Solutions to treat diarrhoea, simple education on personal hygiene and breastfeeding.

“Only by ensuring children get proper care in the home as well as in the health center can we make and sustain progress against child mortality,” Bellamy said.

Dr. J.W. Lee praised the long-standing association of UNICEF and WHO in ground-breaking initiatives for women and children’s health.  The eradication of smallpox was one great triumph of this partnership.  He noted that today WHO and UNICEF work hand in hand around the world on campaigns in the interests of children – campaigns like the global eradication of polio and the battle against malaria and measles, diseases which account for almost two million child deaths every year.  These, and other efforts in the field of immunization are saving at least 3 million young lives every year.

Bellamy added that while delivering life-saving interventions remains the primary task of both agencies in the area of child health, UNICEF is also making a “strategic investment” in breaking cycles to ensure that these achievements in child survival last more than a single generation.

“Educating children today is the key to protecting their children tomorrow,” she said, “And in most parts of the world, girls face the highest barriers to getting a basic education.  The irony is that the children of girls who went to school are more likely to survive and stay healthy themselves.  We have a duty to bring those barriers down, for all the world’s children and for their future families.”

In the countdown to the Millennium Development targets for 2015, Bellamy pledged that UNICEF and WHO would continue to work together to break new ground in child survival and development. The two agencies would also fortify their co-operation on global health issues threatening children, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic which would require “the total mobilization of governments and societies”. 

“Six of the eight MDGs are tied to the well-being of children and women,” she said, “So we have our work cut out for us.”

For further information please contact us:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326 7261
Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7566
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: +41 (0) 22 909 5515




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