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Child Survival: Call to Action

June 14, 2012
Washington, DC

It’s wonderful to be here with you as we approach the end of a terrific day of learning, dedicated to ensuring that every child, no matter where in the world he’s born, gets a healthy and secure start in life.

Today each of us has a huge opportunity to assure that every child can celebrate her fifth birthday. Already, our work as individual nations and in partnership has driven childhood mortality steadily down over the last 20 years. By focusing on the biggest threats to child survival we have reduced child deaths by two million a year between 2000 and 2010.  This is one of the greatest and yet least heralded triumphs the global health community has ever had.  I am so glad it is finally being celebrated.

But this is not enough – not for me, not for any of us.  Now is the moment for us to take those achievements to the next level. Our efforts can save millions more children and keep countless families whole. And among them may be the world’s next generation of great doctors, inventors, teachers – and maybe even a few politicians.

There are steps that each of our countries can take on our own to make this happen.

Here in the U.S. we’ve seen our infant mortality rates steadily decline. This is thanks to cooperation between federal and local governments, community and faith organizations and the private sector. But today we still lose far too many children in the first years of their lives.  They’re gone before they learn to walk or talk, before they throw a ball or give their first smile.

The United States government has committed to protecting the health of our children with targeted interventions serving the populations who need them most. We’ve focused on reducing the number of preterm births.  And we’ve set a national goal, very similar to the kinds of goals you’re setting here, to bring the percentage of all preterm births down to 11.4% by 2020.

To reach that goal we’ve launched a nationwide public-private partnership to raise awareness about the importance of bringing pregnancies to full term. We’ve taken a family-oriented approach that educates women and their doctors on the dangers of premature birth. And we’re funding innovative strategies, like maternity medical homes, where pregnant mothers receive coordinated care from psychological support to education on how to care for infants. We have learned that seemingly simple interventions can help reduce preterm births among women at the greatest risk for poor pregnancy outcomes.

And where infant mortality has taken the highest toll in the US, we’re also partnering with state officials to create strategies and interventions to begin bringing these rates down.  Our plan is to find out what works and scale up the best interventions to the national level.

And today I’m pleased to announce my department will be collaborating in the next year to create our nation’s first ever national strategy to address infant mortality.

I know many of you in this room have led innovative programs and initiatives like these in your own countries.

But our best chance to solve these challenges is by working together. I’ve been struck in my travels around the world that when we’re talking about trade or foreign policy, there are often areas of strong disagreement between nations.  But when the discussion turns to tackling our biggest health challenges, like the health of our children, there is a broad consensus that we must all work together.

And I’ve seen the success of these partnerships with my own eyes.

In January, I visited New Delhi and administered polio vaccine at a local vaccination site – part of a network of health centers that help vaccinate millions of children against polio each year. The day we were there, January 13, 2012, marked one full year since the last reported case of polio in India. It was an amazing day for India, as they had committed the funds, time and hard work to beat the disease. But the occasion also showed the importance of partnership. 

Polio eradication efforts brought together not just the CDC and USAID along with other nations such as Japan and Norway, but also the Global Polio Eradication Initiative which includes Rotary International and the Gates Foundation, and multilateral organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF. It showed us what we can accomplish when we all work together toward a common goal.

My Department is primarily a domestic agency, but protecting the health of the American people requires working both within and outside of our borders.  For over 50 years we have engaged abroad on issues from basic research to vaccination programs, and we’ve worked together to extend these lifesaving programs to those who need them the most.

Everyone here recognizes that collaboration can raise up all of our nations.  The health of the world’s children is not a zero sum game. 

Working together we’ve accomplished a great deal. But we know that one preventable child death is one too many. Today we have the tools and momentum to take that next step and drastically reduce child mortality around the world.

Our nations owe our children the opportunity to grow up and become contributing members of their own communities.  Thanks to our partnership, we can imagine a world where every child, no matter where she is born, will have that chance.  And each of us will leave here this week with a renewed commitment and dedication necessary to make it possible.

Thank you.