Every Child Alive - OpEd by UNICEF Representative Benjamin Perks

25 July 2018
A small child sitting on examination table in a doctor's office
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev

SKOPJE, 20 February 2018 - "Perhaps the single biggest responsibility any society has is to it’s children. The world now has a very simple way of measuring what each country is doing for it’s youngest citizens. It is the newborn mortality rate - the number of children per thousand who die in the first 28 days of life.

The newborn mortality rate is easily measured and comparable across countries. It is a reflection not just of the performance of the health system, but of also of countries’ development, poverty and social well-being, rates of illness, and quality of the environment.

In this country, we have the second highest rate of newborn mortality in Europe. And while it is in decline in other countries in the western Balkans - here it has recently increased. It doesn’t have to be the case. We can give these babies more than a day, more than a month - more than just survival. We can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. 

Today in New York and across the world, UNICEF launches the Every Child Alive Campaign a conscious effort stemming from a commitment of all governments to make newborn mortality a thing of the past. Its calling on governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive, everywhere.

In our context here, this means ensuring proper pre-natal care, check-ups and visits for all pregnant women throughout the country - especially rural women who can often be most distant from health services. It also requires ensuring access and rapid transfer to neonatal intensive care units in case of complication.

There are great health professionals in the country - but doctors and nurses are only as good as the system they work in. Evidence based, internationally accredited protocols and guidelines that govern most European health systems not only need to be in place – professionals need the capacity to put them into practices.

Over the past few years the emphasis has been on renovation and equipment-but as with schools or policing-what really matters is the human capital and the systems that help them to flourish and to serve the citizens with excellence and the care they deserve. We need a system that will reward excellence and thoroughness and hold accountable negligence.

Finally, we need to address other critical factors that can lead to complications during pregnancy.  In this country, nearly one in four women smoke during pregnancy. This increases the risk of multiple adverse pregnancy-related health outcomes, including low birth weight, neonatal mortality, stillbirth and preterm delivery. Expecting mother need to be better informed about the danger signs and symptoms and about the risks of labour and delivery. And the best way to do this is to through empowering mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

We salute the recent commitment of the Ministry of Health on developing an Every Newborn Action Plan to address these gaps. Along with our sister United Nations agencies the World Health Orгanisation (WHO) & the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF will support the government and the people in ensuring every child’s inherent right to life is fulfilled. Ultimately this is important for all us of because the benefits of proper care in the first phase of life are life-lasting and are a major determinant of wellbeing throughout the child’s life cycle and the long-term economic development of the country."

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