AN extra four million of the world’s poorest children have died over 10 years because governments are “turning a blind eye” to those most in need, according to a report published by leading charity, Save the Children.
Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said it was a “global scandal” that children were dying at a rate of one every three seconds.
He promised British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg would push for action at the forthcoming gathering in New York where world leaders will discuss progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Some nine million children a year are still dying from “preventable deaths” often because of malnutrition and a lack of basic healthcare.
The target set for MDG4 was to reduce the number of deaths of under fives by two-thirds, but so far, child mortality has been reduced by just 28% since 1990.
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.”
India provides one example of a country where the death rate reflects “extreme” inequalities in society.
While only one in 25 children from the richest communities will die before the age of five, the rate increases to one in nine among the poorest families, according to the report.
But the charity praised the approach of countries such as Ghana, which has focused on the poor and managed to cut the overall mortality rate from one in eight in 1993 to one in 12 in 2008.
Save the Children said a fairer approach could have prevented an extra 323,000 deaths in Pakistan, 260,000 deaths in Ethiopia, 892,000 deaths in Nigeria and 179,000 deaths in Tanzania over 10 years.
Whitbread continued: “This is a battle we can win. 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.”
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