Children must remain at the heart of UK development policy

Baroness Benjamin, OBE is a Unicef UK Parliamentary Champion. She is supporting a global health summit being hosted this week by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and the GAVI Alliance.

Rahul, 15 months old, with his mother in Bhabanipur village, Sunamganj in Bangladesh.Rahul, 15 months old, with his mother in Bhabanipur village, Sunamganj in Bangladesh. Rahul was diagnosed and treated for pneumonia through a UNICEF-supported health programme, which saved his life. ©Unicef/BANA2012-00693/Khan

I have spent most of my life working with and for children. My mission is to bring joy and happiness into their lives wherever and whenever I can – their well being is paramount. That’s why it distresses me greatly to hear of injustice, unkindness and prejudice against children anywhere in the world. If our society is judged by its tolerance and our open-mindedness then this is especially true of our attitudes towards children. Childhood lasts a lifetime and every policy made affects children directly and indirectly into their adult life.

This week a global health summit is being hosted by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health in partnership with the GAVI Alliance. The purpose of the summit is to highlight and foster greater political will explore ways to accelerate Results, Innovation, Sustainability and Equity in the field of immunisation. They will share technical knowledge about the introduction of immunisation programmes against preventable diseases such as pneumonia, rotavirus, HPV and rubella for children throughout the world.

The number of children who die every year from these diseases is frightening. Pneumonia is the leading killer of children aged under five in the developing world and is responsible for more than 1.3 million child deaths every year. Rotavirus is estimated to kill around 450,000 children every year which is nearly 1,200 children every day.

It is easy for us in the UK to forget the millions of children who are affected by preventable diseases. For example, diarrhoea is an easily treatable disease and, for those of us with access to effective treatments, safe water and clean sanitation facilities, one that is little more than an inconvenience. That simply isn’t the case in many parts of the world. Making effective vaccines available to all those children around the world that need them would make a huge impact on lowering child mortality.

So what is being done to achieve this?

The aim of Millennium Development Goal 4 is to reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015 and the encouraging news is that there are a large number of initiatives taking place to meet this target. UK support is playing a vital role in making that happen.

One great example is the GAVI Alliance’s aim to prevent the deaths of 500,000 children by 2015 and 1.5 million children by 2020 from pneumonia caused by pneumococcal disease. The story is much the same with rotavirus, where effective vaccines are being used to tackle the leading cause of diarrhoeal disease. I am delighted that the UK Government has been at the forefront of the efforts to help to fund the vaccines and other measures needed to prevent these deaths.

We surely all have a duty to the children of the world to make sure they are safe and well and we need to do all we can to improve their lives and reduce needless and unnecessary deaths. To do this we need real leadership. The UK has shown this leadership in supporting organisations like GAVI and Unicef, organisations which have a proven track record in making vaccines available to some of the poorest children in the world and which distribute these vaccines on the ground. It is time for more governments to look to the example provided by the UK and create the political will necessary to fund projects to vaccinate children around the world.

That is why I want to show my support for the GAVI Partners’ Forum in Tanzania. Children around the world rely on the support of organisations like GAVI and Unicef and on the commitment of our Governments to making sure that these projects succeed.

Baroness Benjamin, OBE is a member of the Unicef UK Parliamentary Champions Network.

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