Press Conference by UNICEF Executive Director

7 September 2010

Press Conference by UNICEF Executive Director

7 September 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by UNICEF Executive Director


Two reports launched today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed that targeting the world’s poorest children and communities with health interventions could save millions of lives each year and provide a more equitable, practical, cost-effective path to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline.

During a Headquarters press conference, Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, called for greater fairness in health spending and spotlighted the General Assembly’s upcoming summit-level review of the status of the Millennium Goals — set for 20 to 22 September — as an excellent platform for world leaders to back Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s new strategy for accelerating progress on child and maternal health targets.

He introduced a new study on Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals, along with UNICEF’s flagship report, Progress for Children, telling correspondents that the surveys had been compiled as part of the agency’s response to an alarming trend:  even in many countries making progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, gaps between the richest and poorest children had widened.  An equity-focused strategy would, therefore, yield “not only a moral victory – right in principle – but will also be right in practice”, he said.

Mr. Lake was joined by Carolyn Miles, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Save the Children, who briefed on her organization’s report, A Fair Chance at Life:  Why Equity Matters for Children, which similarly warned that, unless Governments took a new approach to reducing child mortality by focussing on equity and ensuring universal access to basic healthcare, the Millennium Goals would not be met.  

Noting that UNICEF had recently examined 26 countries where the national under-five mortality rate had declined by 10 per cent or more since 1990, Mr. Lake said that in 18 of them the gap between the child mortality rates of the richest and poorest quintiles either grew or stayed the same.  In 10 of those 18 countries, that disparity rose by at least 10 per cent.  “Poor children in developing countries are two to three times more likely to be underweight; less likely to attend school and more likely to die than children in the richest quintile.”

The report on progress towards the Goals presented evidence of such disparities across a range of indicators, including not only between developing and developed countries, but also between poor children and their more well-off peers in developing countries, rural and urban children, and boys and girls.  Mr. Lake said the results of UNICEF’s study, undertaken four months ago, was a direct challenge to those that had often questioned whether, in practice, strategies that targeted the most disadvantaged were worthwhile, given their cost and difficulty.

Yet, based on the results of UNICEF’s study, which targeted 15 countries based on different levels of deprivation and different patterns of inequity, “such an equity-focused approach proved considerably more cost-effective and more sustainable than the path we are on,” he said.  For example, in low-income, high-mortality countries, every $1 million invested in those with the greatest needs saved the lives of 60 per cent more children.  “And it therefore accelerated progress towards health-related [Millennium Development Goals] faster than the current course,” he added.

Stressing that the study in no way called into question what UNICEF and its partners had accomplished in the past, Mr. Lake said:  “It only helps us find the best way to build upon what we’ve achieved.  [And] we should begin that work immediately.”  The study demonstrated that an approach focused on the most marginalized was right in principle and right in practice.  “It doesn’t just suggest change.  We believe it compels it,” he said.

Noting that the UNICEF reports had been released in conjunction with a report by Save the ChildrenMs. Miles said that she had just returned from flood-ravaged Pakistan and had witnessed first-hand how even a country that had made considerable progress towards the Millennium Goals could have trouble erasing “fatal inequities” among children. 

Looking more broadly, she said the main problem areas were pre-and post-natal care, skilled attendance at birth, and access to low-cost treatment for the major killers:  pneumonia; diarrhoea; and malaria.  As that was the case, millions of children died needlessly each year of preventable diseases.  Echoing Mr. Lake, she stressed that in countries where child mortality was decreasing, the gap in advances between the poor and the most marginalized was growing.  Children were still denied prevention and treatment based on where they lived, or how much money they had.

Calling that situation “outrageous,” Ms. Miles said simple interventions before, during and after birth, for both children and mothers, could make a huge difference.  Save the Children, therefore, promoted training, especially among women living in local communities, providing them with simple skills that could be applied in rural and remote areas.  Her organization was also working hard to bring together community groups with local service providers to promote participation in and advocacy for the provision of health services for all.

“We’re seeing great results from the community empowerment model,” she said, noting also that immunization campaigns had proven to be low cost scalable interventions that even the poorest countries could implement.  Save the Children was also pushing for broader women’s empowerment in its efforts to reach all members of society, while maintaining a priority on the poorest.  “We can’t take the easy way out by focusing on more well-off communities,” she said, urging Governments to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Assembly’s Millennium Goals review as “likely our last chance to accelerate progress”.

Responding to a host of questions on Pakistan, Mr. Lake said the United Nations and its partners were making progress to alleviate suffering from the heart-wrenching devastation.  He had also visited the region and had pledged support to the UNICEF staff there and had urged more resources.  “There’s still a long way to go,” he continued, noting that, with so much of the country under water, farmers would be unable to plant until next spring.

He said a major effort was also underway to limit the scope of what appeared to be a second wave of waterborne disease.  “The more we do now in the way to limit the scope of the disaster, the more we are investing in the future recovery phase.”  Ms. Miles added that her “biggest worry” was the recovery phase, as the world was not stepping up.

Asked if the Pakistan Government was doing enough to alleviate the suffering of its people, Mr. Lake said there was no need to single anyone out:  “We all have to do more.”  At the same time, he had been impressed with the very hard work being carried out by local officials in the areas he visited.

Summing up, Mr. Lake said that in the final push to the Millennium Development Goals, “we should all look at our programmes through the prism of equity.  We have an extraordinary opportunity to do not only the right thing, but the most practical thing.  So that when 2015 arrives, we can say that we not only saw the widening gap between the rich and the poor, we narrowed it; that we not only reached the most reachable — but reached the most in need; that we not only saw a new opportunity, but seized it.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.