In 2000, 189 nations signed the Millennium Declaration, which included eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at tackling extreme poverty and multiple deprivations faced by millions in the world. In September 2015, global leaders came together to ratify and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to carry forward the momentum generated by the MDGs.
The MDGs reflected the fact that health and education, especially in the case of children, were vital drivers for a country’s prosperity. Unfortunately, India could meet only four of the 10 health targets under the MDGs. Although we’ve made substantial progress, India still has the highest number of child deaths in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million deaths in 2015. It is unacceptable that nearly 300,000 children continue to die of preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea every year.
In spite of a Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), equipped to cover an annual birth cohort of 27 million, an estimated 8.9 million newborns are either partially or not vaccinated. As a result, close to 500,000 deaths occur due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Low awareness, myths about vaccination, fear of injections and other operational issues drive the disparity in immunisation coverage. Prioritising child health issues is key to addressing this crucial problem.
The government launched the Mission Indradhanush campaign in December 2014 to expand immunisation coverage to at least 90% in the next five years. The first phase has been successfully implemented and is currently in its second phase, which aims to cover more districts. A campaign of this magnitude will have to be backed by higher prioritisation of child health issues and adequate financial resources.
It is highly commendable, therefore, that Members of Parliament across party lines have come together through the Political Leaders Coalition for Child and Adolescent Health (PLCCAH).
A multi-stakeholder approach is needed to draw greater attention towards issues of child health and survival. We witnessed the coming together of society during the polio eradication drive where the government, civil society, health workers and the larger public played their respective role to eliminate the scourge of polio. We need to now replicate the approach to reduce child deaths and make this a national priority.
Through the ‘Batting 4 Life’ event, the Coalition has attempted to garner support from parliamentarians, journalists, celebrities and other key stakeholders towards child health and survival issues. In its third edition this year, the event serves as an ideal platform to engage key stakeholders to ‘bat’ for the cause.
Healthy children are the foundation of any developed nation. The large mandate won by the government needs to be leveraged to introduce bold policies which can dramatically alter the health and well-being of millions of children across India. A concerted effort backed by sufficient resources and a committed political front are necessary to achieve the SDGs and cement India’s place as a global leader.
‘Every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last’. For these words of Charles Dickens to be made true, we should do all we can to prevent child deaths and provide a conducive atmosphere for every child to thrive and grow to its true potential.
Sanjay Jaiswal is a BJP MP and managing trustee, Political Leaders Coalition for Child and Adolescent Health
The views expressed are personal