Many countries have succeeded in improving the health and well-being of children. However the number of children dying before their fifth birthday remains high. In 1980 an estimated 13 million children died each year; over two decades later in 2004 this figure had reduced to 10.5 million deaths in childhood. Unfortunately where least progress has been made is in saving the lives of newborns—40 per cent. of all childhood deaths take place in the first 28 days of life, and most of these in the first day or week of life. If current trends continue, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 will not be achieved until 2045—over 30 years late.
Most child deaths are preventable and could be avoided by delivering basic services and supplies to families, young people and communities. For example: improving water supplies and sanitation; increasing the use of mosquito repellent bed nets to protect children from malaria; improving maternal health care, increasing emphasis on breastfeeding and improved nutrition and immunisation programmes. Improving access to basic health services requires that hospitals and health centres have well-trained doctors, nurses and midwives as well as the medicines and equipment to do their job.
The health of babies and children can also be improved by preventing HIV infection in girls and women and by making sure that HIV infected women have access to treatment and care in pregnancy, child birth and beyond. The UK Government’s view is that improving the health of children (MDG 4) goes hand in hand with improving the health of their mothers (MDG 5).
The UK wants to make faster progress towards both these MDGs. We are working with many countries, including India, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Nigeria to achieve this. In Kenya, DFID committed £19.6 million to a programme providing 11 million bed nets treated with insecticide. They will be available to over 75 per cent. of the vulnerable population by 2007-08, allowing them to sleep safely and free from malaria. It is estimated that the lives of 167,000 children will be saved as a result. In Bangladesh, maternal health is the first objective of a new US$ 4.3 billion health sector-wide programme which DFID is contributing £100 million over five years.
DFID also contributes to global projects such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which could save the lives of five million children by 2015, and a further five million after that as they are immunised. The UK has promised $2.6 billion (£1.3 billion).