A nation’s future is built upon its children. Early childhood development is considered to be the most important phase which determines the overall wellbeing across the individual’s lifespan. Investing in children translates into saving our world from the countless ills that plague society today.
15 years ago, the world made a promise in the form of Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce the global under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 as our leaders agreed on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We have now reached the end of the era of the MDGs, and the world has come together to make a new promise in the form of a new set of goals for the coming 15 years. In that respect, it is important to take a closer look at how well we did in our strive to uphold our promise; and approach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a renewed sense of commitment.
We should acknowledge that we have come a long way. According to the 2015 Levels and Trends in Child Mortality report by UNICEF, WHO, World Bank Group and the United Nations, substantial global progress has been made over the years. The number of under-five deaths worldwide has declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015, leaving us with 19,000 fewer deaths every day. We have also accelerated global progress as a whole. The world’s annual under-five mortality rate reduction has increased from a rate of 1.8% between 1990 and 2000, to 3.9% in 2000-2015. This momentum of recent years was certainly boosted by the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health launched by the United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, and the Every Woman Every Child movement for improving newborn and child survival, including maternal health.
Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest under-five mortality rate in the world has also registered a considerable acceleration with an annual rate of reduction which increased from 1.6% in the 1990s to 4.1% between 2000 and 2015. My own country has contributed its share of achievements for the registered improvement in the region. Among 11 other low income nations, Ethiopia has been able to meet its target of this goal, a success highly attributed to progressive health strategies by the Federal Ministry of Health, stronger partnerships and remarkable outreach work conducted by community health extension workers. Over all, the world has avoided the death of 48 million children under the age of five since 2000- a figure which would not have been possible had the mortality rate at the new millennium remained the same.
A staggering achievement, but not enough! Our progress is shadowed by the realization that despite all the strides, our efforts were still insufficient for us to meet this goal globally. Presently, 16,000 under-five children still die every day. This realization is even more painful with the knowledge that most of these deaths are caused by diseases that are readily preventable or treatable. Our achievements in the MDGs are also varied in-between targets. We now understand that neonatal complications are responsible for the vast majority of under-five deaths; with factors related to the educational attainment of mothers, their level of access to health systems, income, nutrition and the prevalence of HIV. It is particularly worrisome that the 53% global decline we have seen in the under-five mortality rate is far from the two-thirds reduction we need. If current trends are to continue, we would only be able to achieve this goal by 2026! This task is a tremendous unfinished business for the commitment our leaders made in 2012; A Promise Renewed an even more ambitious undertaking with proposed SDG target for child mortality to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under-five, by 2030.
There is a huge fight awaiting us. The SDGs come at a time where emerging global issues that should have been foreseen and prevented well ahead are enormously changing the contexts we work in. The current refugee crisis and the harsh challenges presented by working in conflict settings is a huge wake up call to push for more innovative strategies. We have to explore an integrated approach that complements our success in the different goals and targets. Our movement needs to be people-centered, owned and led by the community. Key actors including powerful players in the private sector have to be equally engaged in the fight.
As a youth advocate, I also want to remind us of the big opportunity we have in our hands. We need to adopt an uncompromising stance for applying the great passion and untapped potential us young people have to offer, in providing more innovative solutions to the multitudes of issues we have yet to confront.
Featured image: Mary Thullah, 20-year old mom comforts her daughter Fatmata Turay after she received vaccinations at the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital on March 10, 2015 in Freetown Sierra Leone. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank