More than two decades ago, UNICEF had a crazy idea: Focus on simple solutions, and you'll save millions of children.
Immunize them, so they don't get diseases we know how to prevent. Encourage their mothers to breastfeed. Monitor their growth, so we know if they're malnourished. Get them insecticide-treated mosquito nets, so they don't get malaria. If they get diarrhea, give them an inexpensive solution of salts and sugars that will prevent them from dying of dehydration.
It worked. Since 1990, 90 million children have survived because they had access to such simple, life-saving solutions, according to a new report released today by UNICEF. And what we call "child mortality" -- the number of children under 5 who die each day of things we can largely prevent -- has dropped nearly 50 percent, from 33,000 every day in 1990 to 18,000 today.
Those are heartening numbers, but they're clearly not enough. The number of children who die from things we can prevent should be ZERO. And it can be. With new vaccines, technology and programs, we can finish the job we started -- but only if we work faster, better and together. Right now, almost a million babies die on the day they are born, and a total of 2.9 million die within their first month of life. That's almost half of all under-5 deaths in 2012. If we don't accelerate our efforts, as many as 35 million children could die from preventable causes between 2015 and 2028, according to the UNICEF report, "Committing to Child Survival, A Promise Renewed."
Just as there is no single reason why children under 5 die, there is no single solution. But this report demonstrates that simple solutions work, and that now is the time to redouble our efforts: make sure children get a healthy start by providing pregnant women with good quality care and giving them and their babies a safe delivery. Provide more of the things we're already providing: more vaccines, more nutritional supplements, safe water and sanitation, more insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Focus on the areas where the need is greatest: sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which together account for four-in-five under-5 deaths globally. And work together -- governments, communities, civil society organizations, private sector partners and UN agencies -- to support effective and life-saving actions at each phase of a child's life.
We won't achieve any of this, however, without determination and action. As a society, we can't say that every child has value if we're not willing to act accordingly. Over the last year, 176 governments, including the United States, have pledged to accelerate our progress on child survival. These countries have recognized that an investment in children is at the heart of every nation's prosperity and sustainable development. Healthy children are more likely to live longer, stay in school and be productive members of their society, creating benefits that reverberate through future generations.
You can join us in this fight. Tell President Obama you stand with UNICEF. Tell him you believe that every child deserves a chance to survive. Tell him we need his help to create a world in which ZERO children die of things we can prevent.
Caryl M. Stern is the president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and author of "I Believe in ZERO: Learning from the World's Children," which will be published by St. Martin's Press on Oct. 1, 2013.
This blog is part of a month-long series in partnership with Johnson & Johnson to highlight the successes and remaining opportunities in the Every Woman Every Child movement. With the aim of improving the lives of women and child around the world, EWEC was launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010 to accelerate progress against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To learn more, click here.
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