Four million child deaths could have been prevented over ten years if countries had made the same effort to help poor children as better-off ones, Save the Children said today.
In a new report, the aid agency claims it has discovered a dangerous trend among many developing countries of “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.
Save the Children says this means 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.
Their report highlights, however, that it is possible for countries to reduce child mortality in an “equitable way” – so that the poorest communities are not discriminated against – and identifies seven countries where child mortality fell and the gap between different income groups narrowed.
The report, entitled A Fair Chance at Life, also exposes the myth that the richer a country is the more children’s lives it is able to save, by revealing:
§ Some of the world’s poorest countries, including Ghana and Bolivia, have managed to reduce child mortality dramatically by focusing on helping the poorest.
§ In contrast, many of the countries with rising child mortality rates have seen inequalities increase. For example, in Rwanda there has been a decrease in child mortality among better-off families while the rate of children dying from the poorest families has risen.
§ In India - one of the world’s fastest growing economies - the poorest children are up to three times more likely to die than the richest children.
Save the Children’s report comes two weeks before Nick Clegg, Barack Obama and other world leaders gather in New York to discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - internationally agreed targets to combat global poverty by 2015.
With only five years to go, the goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds (MDG4) is one of the most off-track as global child mortality has only fallen by 28% since 1990 – far short of its 67% target.
Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children International’s Chief Executive, said: "It is a disgrace that some countries are ‘ticking a box’ on child mortality without ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable children benefit equally.
"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. Yet many governments are turning a blind eye to these deaths simply because it is easier or more convenient to help children from better-off groups.
"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. Every child has a right to survival and every government has an obligation to protect them. What’s more, our research shows that prioritising the poor is one of the surest ways countries will reduce child mortality.”
A Fair Chance of Life highlights that some countries’ failure to focus on the poorest has dramatically slowed efforts to stop those children dying from preventable causes. It reveals that if countries had reduced child deaths across all communities at the same rate as they had reduced them among the richest groups, four million children’s lives could have been saved across 42 countries in ten years. Nigeria, for example, could have prevented an additional 892,000 child deaths.
Save the Children warns that unless world leaders take a radical new approach to cutting child mortality by focussing on equity and ensuring universal access to basic healthcare and other essential services, the MDGs will not be met.
Jasmine Whitbread added: "This is a battle we can win. We have the knowledge and resources to accelerate progress and get Millennium Development Goal 4 back on track. Even countries with very low incomes can save thousands of lives by making political choices that make sure the poorest families get the help they need.
"But we need world leaders to agree a concrete plan for the next five years that prioritises and protects the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children. World leaders have a make-or-break opportunity when they meet in New York later this month to get this plan in place."
Save the Children's new research is launched today alongside a UNICEF report: Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity which highlights that reaching the poorest and most marginalised communities is pivotal to realising the MDGs. It says investing in the children of these communities is not only the right thing to do; it is also a cost-effective way to save lives, educate children and achieve the MDGs.