Children in Pacific dying at rates not seen in Australia ‘since before Federation’

World Vision today launched Child Health Now!, a five-year global advocacy campaign urging governments to do more to halt the catastrophic number of deaths among children under five years of age. Globally, nine million children die before their fifth birthday every year.

Children in the Pacific region are dying at rates not seen in Australia ‘since before Federation’ according to World Vision chief executive Tim Costello.

“The under five mortality rate in Australia in 1907 was 24 per 1,000 live births. In East Timor today, just a few hundred kilometres off Australian shores, that rate is 97 babies – still almost four times the rate that our grandparents and great-grandparents faced,” said Mr Costello.

Solutions are known, cheap and effecitve

“We're not asking for money to find a cure. This isn't a 'mystery disease' – almost 40% of children die from just two diseases: pneumonia and diarrhoea,” said Mr Costello. “The world knows the solutions; we just need to implement them.”

 The cost of an oral rehydration treatment that can prevent a child dying from diarrhoea is just 30 US cents, while 80% coverage of Vitamin A in Africa could be achieved at a cost of just US$1.20 per child.

World Vision estimates that a package of simple, low-cost interventions delivered at the household and community level – such as improved nutrition, hand washing, exclusive breastfeeding and early identification of pneumonia – could save the lives of 2.5 million children annually.

Health priorities flawed

“Donor country health aid funding is often inappropriately weighted. Governments that just focus on HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are neglecting unfashionable diseases like diarrhoea, and the underlying causes of child deaths, like basic water and sanitation that kill many more children,” said Mr Costello.

“In 2006, global spending on maternal, newborn and child health was about $3.5 billion. That same year, nearly $9 billion was devoted to HIV and AIDS.”

“In the last ten years over 100 new global health funds have been created, for various disease-specific reasons. Why is there no global fund to fight pneumonia and diarrhoea, the most common causes of child deaths?”

Just 30 countries account for over 80% of child mortality—more than 7 million deaths each year—yet these same countries receive less than half of global aid commitments for health.

“Governments should be vigilant about their return on investment for health funding,” said Mr Costello. “Donors need to get smart about how they allocate money – supporting community level preventative care can send mortality rates tumbling.”

Economic benefits

The Child Health Now! report found that significant economic benefits flowed from investing in child and maternal health. Conversely there were significant costs to productivity in countries where health was neglected: 

  • Maternal and Newborn deaths are responsible for $15 billion dollars in lost potential productivity globally.
  • A 5% improvement in child survival raises economic growth by 1% per year over the subsequent decade. 
  • Globally improved water, sanitation and basic hygiene practices are estimated to together save US$7 billion dollars in health care costs each year.

“If for some reason governments are not convinced by the moral arguments for action on child mortality rates, surely the economic benefits should spur action,” said Mr Costello.

Political commitment needed

“Agencies like World Vision are vital in combating this tragic situation. But the reality is that we can’t turn back the tide on child mortality rates unless governments in both developing and developed countries start lifting their weight. That is why we have launched the Child Health Now! Campaign,” said Mr Costello.

Overall global donor aid for maternal, newborn and child health accounts for only 3% of global aid.

“At present, there is no shortage of high-level declarations and commitments from donor countries, but in practice donor pledges on health have become a debased currency,” he said. “It is politics, not poverty, that is killing the world’s children.”

At a global level, rich countries need to increase their commitment to health from the current level of US$16 billion a year to $42.5 billion by 2015 if they’re to meet the health MDGs in all developing countries. To put this funding requirement in context, it is equivalent to 4% of the fiscal stimulus package announced by the G20 for 2009.

“The Australian Government should commit to providing its fair share of predictable, long-term aid: approximately $1.2 billion per year by 2012, including $520 million for the most basic health services,” said Mr Costello. 

Media contact: 
Dominic McInerney on 0428 584 809 or (03) 9287 2257 

World Vision chief executive Tim Costello and World Vision maternal and child health expert Sue Ndwala are available for interview. 

 An executive summary, the full Child Health Now! report, and regional facts and statistics are available at:

The Child Health Now! report and campaign will be launched at One Just WorldBMW Edge – Federation Square from 5.30pm, Wednesday 25th November.

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