UNICEF report flags failures of 1990 child summit goals

In a report released in September, UNICEF chronicles the extent to which goals set at the 1990 world summit for children have — or have not — been met. It finds "net progress" in some areas but "setbacks, slippage and ... real retrogression" in others. Overall, it says, the world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals "largely because of insufficient investment".

The report, titled We the Children — end- decade review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Children, was prepared for the long-planned UN General Assembly special session on children scheduled to have taken place 19–21 September. Because of the 11 September hijacking attacks, the session has been rescheduled for an as yet unspecified time during the first half of 2002.

Specific goals set at the 1990 summit included reduction of infant and under-five mortality by at least one-third; a halving of maternal mortality and of severe and moderate malnutrition among under-five-year-olds; and universal access to safe drinking-water and basic education. Another objective was immunization of at least 90% of children under one year against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, poliomyelitis, and tuberculosis.

The We the Children report states that, though 63 countries have achieved a one- third reduction in mortality among children under the age of five, there was only a one-fifth reduction in over 100 countries. And, despite positive advances in health and literacy, over 10 million children still die each year, often from readily preventable causes. In addition, an estimated 150 million children are malnourished and over 100 million are still out of school, 60% of them girls.

One clear achievement of the 1990s, the report says, was the almost complete eradication of polio, with a 99% reduction in the number of reported polio cases in the world compared to a decade ago. The success of national immunization campaigns in the developing world has also facilitated the widespread provision of vitamin A supplements, "which have sharply reduced severe forms of vitamin A deficiency, including blindness".

US epidemiologist and child health expert Dr William Foege, senior adviser on health policy at the Carter Center in Atlanta, USA, believes the forthcoming UN special session for children "will require a deliberate focus on determining shared priorities, increasing resources, and making tools, such as vaccines, more available, and far more attention to the development of delivery infrastructures in developing countries." Foege played a key role in bringing the leaders of over 150 countries together at the 1990 summit.

Stephen Rose, New York, USA

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland