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Gates Foundation: Huge progress in reducing child mortality

Zipporah Nyambura
September 13, 2017

A newly launched report by the Gates Foundation tracks improvements in tackling health issues, such as malaria, AIDS and maternal and child mortality, that devastate many of the world's poorest countries.

Nigeria picture of a mother and child
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Plaucheur

Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data looks at how well the world is meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will publish the report annually until 2030, the year set by the international community to meet these targets. DW spoke to Anita Zaidi from the Gates Foundation. 

DW: What are the main findings of your report?

Anita Zaidi: The really important point as we move from the previous target of the Millennium Development Goals to the 2030 goals, which are much broader, is that we have made huge progress since 1990 in child mortality reductions. We have an almost 50 percent reduction since then. But we still have six million children dying every year and a lot of those children are in Africa. The other area is South Asia. But if we do not make progress in Africa, we will not be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have some anxiety that we have big SDGs, which are all very important. We need to finish this job for our children and our women and create the environment that they need to reach their best potential.

What this report does, is that it calls out the promises that we have made. We need to not lose our focus. We need to keep looking at what the focus is and track it. This is going to be an annual tracking of how we are doing. Are we keeping our promises or are we lagging behind? That's why this report is really important to Africa.

Children under five in developing countries die of preventable diseases. What could people do to curb child mortality?

One very big issue is access to good maternal services so that babies are born in environments, where the biggest risk to mothers and children is on the day of birth. We need to really recognize that as an issue and focus on that so that mothers get very good maternal services.

[Another] issue is nutrition - we need to focus on what a good diet looks like and how important breast feeding is in the first year of the baby's life. All of those things are not hard to do but they won't happen automatically. We need to be sure that they are happening.

Who do you think is to blame? Is it the governments who have failed to take care of the people?

I think a lot of us need to work together to solve this. It's not just government. It's also civil society, the media, the physicians and the health providers. What I like about the SDGs is the way they are framed. It's all of our responsibility to tackle these issues.

Portrait photo of Anita Zaidi
Anita Zaidi is director for the Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationImage: privat

Another interesting thing about the SDGs is the need for integration. We need to strive and hold our governments accountable for what they are doing to integrate programming in a way that serves the poorest.

Africa has the honor of having a World Health Organization director general who is from Africa, [Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus]. I like the way he is thinking about things. He has five priorities: women and children are a big focus, universal health service is a big focus and epidemic response is a big focus.

He has defined his priorities in a way that we can use them to make our systems more responsive to the needs of the poor. I have spent a lot of my life working with very poor people and it's not that they don't have awareness. It's that they don't have the opportunity to change their lives. That's where we have to make a difference for them.

What are your three main SDG goals that you are focusing on in Africa?

Our foundation has a few areas of focus and most of our efforts have very similar priorities to the SDGs. These are maternal and child health, environment, water and sanitation, and addressing poverty. These are all linked to each other.

Interview: Zipporah Nyamburah