Friday, 15 June 2012 14:00

AFRICA: Hillary Clinton, Birthplace Should Not Affect Survival of a Child


US Secretary of State tells opening session of Child Survival Call to Action meeting that preventable child deaths can be ended in two decades

Addressing a gathering of global leaders on child and maternal health on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the child mortality gap between rich and poor countries as "shocking".

"None of us wants to live in a world where a child's life comes down to the luck of the draw," said Clinton, who was speaking on the opening day of the Child Survival Call to Action meeting hosted by the Governments of the United States, Ethiopia and India with UNICEF.

Child mortality rates coming down too slowly

"A child born in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely to die than one born here in the US. Child mortality rates are coming down, but too slowly," said Clinton.

"If we use the same trajectory, the numbers (of child deaths in rich and poor countries) will be the same in a century. We can't wait that long for a child in Pakistan and Nigeria to have the same chance of survival as a child in the US or Europe."

End preventable deaths

Some 750 people from more than 80 countries, including representatives from 50 ministries of health, have gathered in Washington to attend the two-day meeting which aims to mobilise the world to end preventable child deaths.

Clinton told her audience that new tools, technologies and political commitment can end preventable child deaths in roughly two decades.

The role of vaccines

"US support for GAVI, along with our European partners, will immunise more than 250 million children in the poorest countries by the year 2015

Denis McDonough, the US Deputy National Security Advisor

Several speakers highlighted the critical role that vaccinations are playing in reducing child deaths, with some citing the GAVI Alliance's replenishment meeting in London one year ago as a key step toward the Child Survival Call to Action meeting.

"US support for GAVI, along with our European partners, will immunise more than 250 million children in the poorest countries by the year 2015, and will prevent more than four million premature deaths," said Denis McDonough, the US Deputy National Security Advisor. The goal of the conference, he said, "aligns our values of our people with the interests of our nation."

Nigeria's expansion in routine vaccine coverage

Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate also highlighted the importance of expanding vaccinations in order to meet the goals of ending preventable child deaths.

While many people focus much attention on the polio vaccine, he said a broader picture was needed for his country's complete vaccination coverage. He said Nigeria has increased routine vaccination coverage from 42 percent to 67 percent, integrated measles coverage into its routine vaccinations (coverage is now 70 percent), and GAVI helped Nigeria introduce a pentavalent pneumococcal vaccine "in the last week. This is very important."

A moral issue to end deaths

The opening sessions from the conference included addresses from health ministers from Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and India; the Pakistan ambassador to the US; and featured business and faith-based group leaders. It even included a voice from Hollywood: actor Ben Affleck, founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative.

"It is morally incumbent on us to work to eradicate this problem (of preventable child deaths) and stay with it until the work is done," said Affleck, who has been traveling to DRC for the last six years. He also asked for the United States and others to work toward ending conflicts in eastern Congo, saying "a healthy community cannot exist within a broken security sector."

Source: GAVI Alliance (Geneva, Switzerland)

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