By Haile Gebrselassie, Save the Children Child Ambassador, two-time Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion.

Credit: Jiro Ose/Save the Children
Credit: Jiro Ose/Save the Children

Ethiopia, my country, is the cradle of humanity. The first stone tools were found here and Lucy, a 3 million year old skeleton and the first Homo sapiens, was found in the village of Hadar, on the southern edge of the Afar triangle.

Our history is ancient and continuous. We are fiercely proud of the fact that we are the only African nation never to have been colonised. But like every nation our history is chequered and we have suffered.

In 1983, when I was ten years old, the first flames of hunger were flickering throughout Ethiopia. It was that year my mother died due to birth related complications. In those days, in my village, this was not very unusual.

My mother died following birth complications. The women of the village tried to help, but when I think back I realise that none of them really knew what they were doing.

In so many ways, we have made progress in saving the lives of mothers and their newborns since then. Today, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been halved since 1990.

The number of women who die in childbirth has declined by almost a third – that’s millions of kids who get to grow up with a mother and millions more getting a chance at life.

What we have achieved so far must be celebrated. The actions of our governments over the last fifteen years have brought about the greatest leap in children’s wellbeing survival in history. This change has been brought about by bold political leadership at the highest levels.

But even today, half of all women giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa give birth without any skilled help. Globally, 2 million women also give birth completely alone.  A direct result of this lack of skilled health workers, as Save the Children has shown in a new report today, a million newborn babies die on their first day of life. A single baby’s death is one death too many.

The good news is that we know what needs to change: ensuring every birth is supported by quality trained health care workers who have the expertise to help premature babies survive, deal with birth complications and prevent newborn infections can, with some wider steps, help prevent as many as two-thirds of these newborn deaths.

Every country in the world must ensure that all mothers-to-be have access to a midwife with life-saving medicines and equipment.

Africa is finally a continent on the rise – and children are the key to our continuing success. I want them to grow up to be the doctors, lawyers, teachers and even athletes that they are meant to be. The race for survival is a marathon, not a sprint. We are in this for the long haul. Like long distance running, this will take endurance, commitment and conviction. We have seen the incredible results when we put our minds to it.

The prize for these children is much greater than an Olympic medal. They get a fair chance at life, regardless of how poor their parents are, where they live or whether they are a boy or a girl. This is a race that we can win.

Learn More:

  • Read the new report from Save the Children, Ending Newborn Deaths
  • Support mothers and newborns everywhere by asking world leaders to make these 5 promises to save newborns in their first day

  • Join the conversation on Twitter using #firstday.

Race for Survival – Take Action!


Every five seconds, a child dies needlessly from preventable causes and Save the Children’s Global Day of Action on October 23rd is shining a light on the gross injustice of preventable child deaths and pushing for accelerated progress to save children’s lives. This year over 50,000 children in more than 67 countries – from Iraq, to Nepal to Ethiopia – will participate in a global relay race to call on their leaders to take urgent action in the fight against preventable child deaths.

Save the Children today launched a star-studded film called “Race for Survival”, featuring Hollywood star, Isla Fisher, former Kenyan world record holder, Patrick Makau Musyoki, Bollywood megastar, Kunal Kapoor and US actor, Cameron Boyce.

The short film, aimed at galvanising world action against preventable child death, has each of the stars running a leg of a relay race, in different corners of the world. The race kicks off in Kenya, with athlete Patrick Makau Musyoki, deftly gliding through rural countryside. Cut to Bollywood’s Kunal Kapoor as he charges past ruins on the outskirts of Mumbai, before passing the baton to the US, to Actress Isla Fisher.

The action-packed film also features children, young acrobats, parkourists and free-runners from around the world and was exec-produced by renowned music video producer Nabil Elderkin, best known for his work with Kanye West, John Legend and the Arctic Monkeys.

Kunal Kapoor said: “This breath-taking film is energetic, exciting and fun. It is a celebration of the power, resilience and ingenuity of children and young people around the world. I have seen first-hand the work done by Save the Children and ask people to back their global campaign to save children’s lives.”

Isla Fisher said “I recently visited Save the Children’s work in Brazil and there is nothing more important than making sure every child gets the health and nutrition they need. All children should be able to reach their potential”.

Former world record holder, Patrick Makau said: “Dramatic progress is being made around the world in saving children’s lives from poverty and disease. Change is possible and I encourage people to join Save the Children’s campaign and be part of this movement. Growing up is hard enough. It shouldn’t be a race for survival.”

Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of Save the Children said: “Our global ambassadors have given their support to this critical issue. We want this energetic film to inspire people to take action all around the world. All children must be able to access life-saving care and given the opportunity to thrive, no matter where they are born.”

To view the film, and to find out how to take part in the Race for Survival visit:

Join the conversation using #Race4Survival

Saving 3.7 million lives by 2015

Sonia 5yrs Abhishek 5yrs Sapna 5yrs_ed

Save the Children, Family Care International, PATH, Women Deliver and World Vision International:

In the 5 days world leaders gather at the UN General Assembly, close to 100,000 children and 4,000 women will die unnecessarily.

We could be the generation that ends preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicates hunger and rids the world for good of the scandal of extreme poverty. But to do so will require a resolute focus on the hardest to reach and will only happen if we tackle the inequalities that are trapping the poorest and most marginalised people in poverty.

In 2000, world leaders came together to promise an end to the scandal of children dying from preventable causes like, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition and women dying from preventable causes in pregnancy or child birth. By signing up to the Millennium Declaration, the world made a pledge to cut the rate of children under 5 dying by two-thirds and the rate of women dying by three-quarters. We now have less than 1000 days left to meet MDGs 4 and 5. To make good on these promises we need to save an additional 3.5 million children’s lives and 200,000 women.

There has been real progress; Since 1990, the number of children and mothers dying has nearly halved. Many low-income, high-burden countries including Bangladesh and Ethiopia have already met the MDG 4 goal of reducing child mortality rates by two-thirds showing that government commitment to improve health systems and provide access to quality care can have a dramatic effect on reducing mortality rates.

But it is still not enough, and too many countries will fail to meet their target on child and maternal survival by the 2015 deadline. 18,000 children still die every day, mostly from preventable causes- like malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea and 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth

Insufficient investments by governments and donors in maternal and newborn care, major gaps in the provision of health care services, poor nutrition and a global shortage of health workers including 350,000 trained midwives worldwide are some of the key challenges slowing progress.

We know what needs to be done to save the lives of these mothers and babies. Millions more lives can be saved each year if we invest in proven solutions and tackle some of the underlying causes of child and maternal deaths such as malnutrition which contributes to nearly half of all child deaths each year.

The leaders gathering at the UN this September can do something about this. Governments must take the bold steps to ensure that every child and pregnant woman is within reach of a health worker and that there is universal access to quality needed services including newborn care, immunisation, and proper nutrition.

The world needs to keep its eye on the ball in the last stretch to 2015 in order to save these 3.7 million lives on the line. That is why we need to aim higher by resolving now to end preventable Child deaths for good and ensure women and children are at the heart of the Post 2015 development framework.

With enough determination and commitment it can be done.