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Empty Promises and Dead Children

Buried among the 169 targets contained in the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the UN last September, was the vital pledge to eliminate “preventable child deaths” by 2030. It is a cause for our generation – but one that will take a lot more than UN communiqués to advance.

LONDON – Buried among the 169 targets contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – adopted by the United Nations last September amid a blaze of glitzy events, celebrity endorsements, and back-slapping by world leaders, aid donors, and non-governmental organizations – was the vital pledge to eliminate “preventable child deaths” by 2030. It is a cause for our generation – but one that will take a lot more than UN communiqués to advance.

The last set of international development targets, the Millennium Development Goals, certainly brought about important progress; the number of children who died before reaching their fifth birthday dropped from ten million in 2000, when the MDGs were adopted, to 5.9 million in 2015. Some of the world’s poorest countries have registered some of the most significant gains.

This progress was driven by several factors, including falling poverty and heavy investment in community-based health systems. By deploying nurses, midwives, and other health workers, these systems extended the availability of prenatal care, simple obstetric interventions, clean cord cutting, and post-natal care. Ethiopia, for example, has deployed a small army of some 38,000 health workers over the last decade.

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