Collective Determination Will Save the Lives of Children

Over the past 15 years, declining child mortality has meant that the lives of 48 million children under the age of five have been saved.

It's worth stopping and thinking about what that statistic really means: 48 million girls and boys, bringing joy to their parents and family; filling the world with love and laughter.

This progress has also spared millions of parents the tears and heartbreak of losing a child, while strengthening families, communities and the fabric of society.

My continent, Africa, has seen the sharpest falls in child mortality. Sub-Saharan Africa has made the biggest gains: between 2000 and 2015, twenty-one countries reversed an increasing mortality trend or at least tripled their rate of progress compared to the 1990s.

How has such remarkable progress been achieved?

Fortunately, we already know: more children are surviving their first days of life thanks to simple interventions: antenatal visits and having a skilled attendant at birth, for example, are critical for healthy pregnancies, safe deliveries and the survival of newborns. Breastfeeding, which has many well-documented benefits, including lowering rates of diarrhea and pneumonia, is also vitally important. Postnatal check-ups for babies and women who have recently given birth is one of the best ways to quickly address complications.

The more widespread use of vaccines, better nutrition, and improvements in drinking water quality have also contributed to the decline in child mortality. So has the early use of antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women with HIV, which has helped to halve the rate of mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

But even with all this progress, too many babies and young children continue to die from preventable causes. In fact, an astonishing 16,000 children under the age of five die every single day. That means the death of 11 babies, toddlers or young children -- every minute.

In wealthier nations, women wouldn't dream of going through pregnancy without seeing a doctor. But this is the harsh reality millions of women still face. Whether a child lives to celebrate their fifth birthday often depends on their household wealth, the level of education of their parents, and the place they are born.

Most under-five deaths are caused by diseases that are readily preventable or treatable with proven, cost-effective interventions. High rates of child mortality are more common in extremely poor or unstable countries that have suffered from serious inequities for years.

All of us can play a role in ensuring that these deaths become a thing of the past. Last month, in New York, the new Sustainable Development Goals were launched. These new Global Goals seek to accelerate the progress the world has made on child mortality. The final results of the SDGs will not be tallied for another 15 years. However, the decisions that are made now, at the outset, will determine whether or not these ambitious targets are achieved.

To make sure we do meet these targets, last month the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Every Woman Every Child updated Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescent's Health. This ambitious strategy seeks to end all preventable deaths among women, children and adolescents. It will be a bold step forward to ensure strong political commitment, strategic investments and innovative partnerships.

Previous declines in child mortality show us what is possible. With a collective effort and determination, we can help save the lives of millions more and avoid the heart wrenching grief that comes with losing a child.