Save The Children Report Finds Neediest Children In Many Developing Countries Are Overlooked

The deaths of four million of the world’s poorest children over 10 years could have been avoided if governments had not turned “a blind eye” to the neediest children, said a report from Save the Children, released on Tuesday, the U.K. Press Association reports (9/6).

According to Save the Children, many developing countries are focusing on “‘tackling the low hanging fruit’ – so that the methods they use to reduce child mortality lead to the lives of children from better-off communities being saved, while children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not,” a press release from the organization states. As a result, “average global figures which show child mortality has fallen 28% over the past decade are potentially misleading because they mask a dangerous expansion of the child mortality gap between the richest and poorest families in many countries,” according to the release (9/7).

The report highlights concern “that not enough is being done to cut the number of child deaths across the globe,” pointing to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) aimed at curbing “child mortality by two-thirds from its 1990 level by 2015,” the Guardian reports (Ramesh, 9/6). According to Save the Children, global child mortality has gone down by 28 percent since 1990, the Press Association writes. “Nearly nine million children under the age of five die every year – many of them from easily preventable or treatable illnesses – just because they can’t get to a doctor or because their parents can’t afford food that is nutritious enough to keep them alive,” Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children International’s chief executive, said. Whitbread added, “Governments must not be blind to the issue of equity, they must be held accountable for reducing child mortality across all groups in society, regardless of wealth or background” (9/6). 

“[I]t is possible for countries to reduce child mortality in an ‘equitable way’ – so that the poorest communities are not discriminated against,” the press release notes, adding that the report “identifies seven countries where child mortality fell and the gap between different income groups narrowed” (9/7).

Agence France-Presse examines the report’s findings on Bangladesh, which was included on the list of seven. “The impoverished South Asian country is on track to meet its [MDG] of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 – a goal bigger countries such as India may not meet, the report said,” AFP writes. “Infant mortality has fallen in Bangladesh thanks to efforts at immunisation, diarrhoea treatment, family planning and of course gender empowerment,” said Anika Rabbani, Save the Children’s communication manager. “Microcredit schemes, improved female education, a declining fertility rate and expanding job opportunities for women have also contributed to a narrowing disparity between the sexes, the report found” (9/6).

Save the Children’s report (.pdf) recommends that leaders meeting for an MDG review summit later this month focus on an action plan to address child and maternal health, which will be introduced by the U.N. Secretary-General. “This action plan reflects a recognition both of the urgent need to address MDGs 4 and 5 together, and of the fact that these two goals are the furthest off track of the eight MDGs,” the report notes. “It must be backed by new resources from developing countries and donors, and monitored through a robust accountability framework,” the report adds (9/7).

UNICEF To Release Report Highlighting Child Health Inequity In Developing World

Also ahead of the MDG summit, UNICEF will release a report today in New York, the BBC reports. “UNICEF says that children from the poorest 20% of households in the developing world are more than twice as likely to die as children from the wealthiest 20% â���“ and they are becoming even more vulnerable,” the news service writes (Wooldridge, 9/6). 

UNICEF’s report finds “the global mortality rate for children under 5 has been reduced from 90 to 65 per 1,000 live births since 1990. But it notes that mortality rates for infants and toddlers remain high in especially destitute regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where one of seven children died before their fifth birthday in 2008,” the Associated Press reports (Snow, 9/6).

Budget cuts by donor governments, rises in food prices, rapid urbanization, climate change and “escalating human crises” were listed as factors by UNICEF as preventing children from moving out of poverty, the Guardian reports. “Fiscal constraints in industrialised economies will likely have reverberations for developing nations, particularly those dependent on external assistance … Fiscal retrenchment may undermine social progress, particularly if the global recovery is uneven and halting,” the report notes (Elliott, 9/7).

UNICEF is also shifting its strategy to focus on “getting critical health care services to the poorest of the poor,” the AP writes. “UNICEF’s new approach would likely concentrate more on such initiatives as training rural health workers and building schools in remote areas, and less on building big modern hospitals and universities in cities, said Charlie MacCormack of the non-governmental organization Save the Children, which UNICEF consulted. It would cost less but also demand more planning and effort, he said,” according to the news service. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said, “This is a refocus for UNICEF, ensuring that equity reaches into the most deprived areas.”

According to the news service, “Lake said that extensive data analysis since he joined UNICEF in May shows that grass-roots health, education and other development programs inside the most vulnerable communities could improve the lives of the world’s poorest children significantly and ensure they live long enough to go to school.”

Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, said the new strategy, “is an important step toward moving resources down the steep slope of inequality to the children living, and often dying, in poverty around the globe.” In an e-mail, Farmer wrote: “They are right to point out that reported decreases in child mortality belie ballooning inequality and worse outcomes among the most vulnerable: kids on the street and in shanty towns, child laborers and child soldiers, orphans and victims of sex trafficking.”

MacCormack said, “[F]or the U.N., there is no way to get close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals unless we make an effort to get to the hardest to reach” (9/6).

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