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13 August 2007 - speech at the launch of the High Level Committee on Maternal and Child Mortality Reduction

Your Excellency the Federal Minister of Health, distinguished representatives of the Government of Sudan, colleagues from the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, ladies and gentlemen.

We gather today as children in Sudan face considerable challenges to their health. We estimate that 8 per cent of children under five are underweight for their age, while 10 per cent of children in that age group suffer from stunting. Amongst children under the age of five, nearly one-third suffers from diarrhoeal disease, while one in five children suffers from malaria. Less than 60 per cent of the population has access to clean water and less than one-third has access to adequate sanitation. These factors contribute to significant rates of mortality amongst children – and each child lost to preventable causes, represents a lost opportunity for this country, a wasted potential. More than ever before, those of us responsible for the survival and development of this nation’s youngest citizens must take urgent action to improve their health.

If we cannot guarantee the health of children and mothers,....opportunities will be thwarted, and the prospects for a stronger Sudan will be diminished.

In the last two years, Sudan has embarked upon an historic transformation. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement provides a framework upon which we can build a better future for Sudanese children. The return of hundreds of thousands of people to Southern Sudan and the recent peace settlement in eastern Sudan provide an opportunity to rebuild infrastructure, kick-start the economy and work towards stability and prosperity for all Sudan. However, if we cannot guarantee the health of children and mothers, these opportunities will be thwarted, and the prospects for a stronger Sudan will be diminished.

Today, as we launch the new High Level Committee on Maternal and Child Mortality Reduction, we must recognize the need for maternal and child health to be placed at the very heart of the national agenda, and to become a priority for investment at every level – federal, state and community. Moreover, such an investment in mother and child health will provide Sudan with the chance to attain the Millennium Development Goals, which today appear to be still out of our reach.

UNICEF is especially excited about the pan-African Accelerated Child Survival Initiative, which promises to focus necessary investments to radically improve child and maternal health. The new High Level Committee being launched today will be able to draw upon this initiative, and use lessons learned in other African countries to further strengthen health programmes and systems to the benefit of the Sudanese child. Improved infant and child feeding, routine immunization using new vaccines, practical measures to prevent malaria, tackling mother to child transmission of HIV, enhanced skills training for community health workers, and improved health infrastructure at the state and locality level, combined with the integration of health, water, sanitation and education activities, will all contribute to a healthier generation of children and women.

There is global evidence that the Accelerated Child Survival Initiative delivers results for children.
Your Excellencies, there is global evidence that the Accelerated Child Survival Initiative delivers results for children. In Senegal, in Mali, in Benin and in Ghana were this initiative has already been implemented, we have seen under-five mortality rates fall by an average of 20 per cent. Lives are being saved, every day. Opportunities and potential are being safeguarded for the future development of society. These are lessons that we must embrace and turn to our advantage.

If we are successful with the Accelerated Child Survival Initiative in Sudan, by the end of next year, between 75 and 95 per cent of children under-five will have received a one-time package of interventions including polio and measles vaccination, de-worming, provision of Vitamin A and anti-malarial bed nets, and the promotion of good health practices such as breastfeeding and hand washing.

Nearly 4 million women will have received at least one dose of tetanus toxoid vaccine, vital protection against maternal and infant mortality.
A quarter of children under five and at least half of pregnant women will have routinely benefited from a comprehensive package of health, nutrition and water and sanitation activities.

Your Excellencies, I congratulate your Government for taking the first steps towards making child and maternal health a national priority. We thank you for your contribution, and that of the Government of Southern Sudan, to the completion of the first ever national Sudan Household Health Survey which will shortly be published. We welcome your commitments to improving human resource capacity in the health sector, especially at community level, and for investing more financial resources in the primary health sector.

We especially commend you for entering into effective partnerships – with UNICEF, with WHO, with international donors such as the Governments of Japan and Canada, CDC, and Rotary International, all of whom are equally committed to tackling child and maternal health issues in Sudan. These partnerships are critical to the child survival movement.

I urge this new High Level Committee to ensure that the road map for child survival is firmly embedded into future policy planning, and is supported by adequate public expenditure commitments. For its part, UNICEF will continue to work with the Government to provide technical and financial support to health programming in Sudan, as well as investments in water, sanitation and education to ensure a holistic approach to maternal and child health. We look forward to continuing our work with all partners, in our shared effort to create a Sudan where the health of children and mothers becomes the building block for the future.



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