Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore at the launch of the Lancet Commission

19 February 2020
Sinking sea levels
© UNICEF/UN0224045/Sokhin
A child playing in a flooded area of Tebunginako village, heavily affected by sea level rise and coastal erosion in Kiribati.

On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, across more than 190 countries, thank you to our partners at WHO and the Lancet.

The report we’re launching today is the result of MANY HANDS and MANY MINDS.

TWO YEARS OF WORK by 40 child health experts from around the world, led so well by Helen Clark and Awa Coll-Seck.

And together, we’re sounding a GLOBAL ALARM.  

The world’s progress in supporting the health of children and young people has STALLED.

Without immediate action, we risk REVERSING the gains we’ve made in the last two decades.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

After all, the progress made over the last two decades is undeniable.

The world is doing a much better job of delivering the ingredients needed to support children as they grow.

Nutrition, vaccinations, health interventions, mosquito nets and medicine.

As a result, more children are surviving to their fifth birthdays than at any time in history.

An achievement we should all celebrate.

But as this report makes clear, childhood is CHANGING.

A child born today will face challenges that the children of 20 years ago did NOT face.

More than two billion people live in countries where development outcomes like health are undermined by fragility, conflict and natural disasters.

Climate change is threatening their futures as it threatens our planet. Fires, floods, air pollution, heat stress, destroyed crops, water and food insecurity.

The effects of a warming planet hit children FIRST AND WORST.

And childhood obesity is at its highest level in history.

The number of obese children and adolescents has increased more than ten-fold since 1975.

From 11 million then, to 124 million today.

A result of poor diets, processed food, a lack of nutritional education and awareness, and marketing campaigns for harmful foods and products targeting children.

At the same time, government budgets are stretched.

The poorest countries still struggle with child survival and look to the world for support.

And there is a huge and unjust gap in health outcomes between the poorest and wealthiest populations in and among every country.

The lottery of birth continues to unfairly determine a child’s health, development, wellbeing and even survival — shaped by geography, income, wealth and access to services.

Five years ago, the countries of the world made a promise to shape a better, fairer, safer and healthier world for ALL, through the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report reminds us that TIME IS RUNNING OUT.

But it ALSO gives us reason for hope.

A NEW BLUEPRINT to accelerate progress through a mix of targeted investments and government action.

Today, we’re calling on governments, businesses, communities and partners, across all sectors, to put children’s health — and all the factors that determine it — at the TOP of their development agendas.

FIRST — this means bringing health, water, sanitation and nutrition closer to where people live. Invest in more community-based primary health care and food systems, and better access to water and sanitation.

Every stage of a child’s development depends on these ingredients being accessible by every person, no matter where they live.

We know that investments in children’s health are highly cost-effective.

For example, in low-income countries, every dollar invested in health can generate up to nine dollars in economic benefits — the result of averted health care costs down the road and greater employability.

And these investments are NOT as expensive as one might think.

In fact, we estimate a financing gap of just $US195 per person to achieve our child health and wellbeing targets in low-income countries.

EVEN LESS in richer countries.

SECOND — we call for URGENT, ACCELERATED ACTION to meet carbon emission targets.

Business as usual is NOT good enough.

At current rates, global warming will exceed four degrees Celsius by 2100.

This would have DEVASTATING health impacts for children.

Disrupted water and food systems…increased diseases like malaria and dengue…flooding of crowded coastal areas…and harm to children’s brain development.

We must treat climate change like the EMERGENCY THAT IT IS — one that threatens the futures of children in every country.

And THIRD — we call on governments and businesses to join forces to END child-targeted marketing practices for processed foods and harmful products like alcohol and nicotine.

And also develop programmes and campaigns that help parents and caregivers learn MORE about good nutrition — including breastfeeding in the earliest days of a child’s life.

This report reminds us that something CAN be done to shape a healthier future.

But it’s not a fight any one of us can win alone.

We must ALL commit to this future.

As we work in our own agencies and organizations.

As we support the Secretary General’s ambitious Every Woman, Every Child initiative to end all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents.  

And as we call on governments to make bold investments and decisions.  

Not because the SDGs demand it.

But because CHILDREN ARE COUNTING ON US to support their futures.

To give them the best start in life — and the support they need as they grow and develop.

For their futures — and for all us — join UNICEF, WHO and the Lancet as we gather more partners, and more momentum, around this great need.

Thank you.

Media Contacts

Sabrina Sidhu

UNICEF New York

Tel: +1 917 476 1537

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook