Remarks by Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
At Save the Children / Saving Newborn Lives Reception
Global Health Council Conference,
Washington DC, 30 May 2007
Thank you, Charlie, thank you so very much for your kind words and warm sentiments.
I am also grateful to Anne Tinker and Francisco Songane for your very generous compliments on my really modest contribution in our common efforts to promote maternal, newborn and child health.
It is especially heart-warming to hear about the dramatic progress being made in saving newborn lives, as recounted by Neena Khadka, in our common homeland of beautiful Nepal. In recent years, there were a lot of bad news – war of conflict – and it’s so good to hear this good news.
I can tell you that if such progress is possible in Nepal, there is no reason why it cannot be done in all the other high-mortality countries in the world. Charlie, we at UNICEF are proud to be partners with Save the Children, and many others in this room, as we pursue the MDGs, starting first and foremost with the goal of child survival. You might ask, why child survival first? Because – if you don’t survive, nothing else counts. And if we cannot even save our children, how will we save the whales, the trees, the planet? And why would we even bother to do so? After all, isn’t it for our children and their wellbeing
that we want a safe environment, a just society, and a beautiful world?
Well, survival, of course, is not everything. We want our children to not only survive, but to thrive and grow up to their full human potential. That is the larger struggle – and a joyful journey – in which we are all engaged – as parents, citizens, health workers, and development professionals.
Unlike most of you here, I am actually not a health professional. I am, what they call, a quack and a policy wonk. So I am genuinely humbled and a little embarrassed when Charlie, Francisco and Anne speak so effusively about my contribution to maternal, newborn and child health. My contribution in this area has been largely to get these issues on the policy and political agenda at forums like the World Summit for Children, and the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Children where world leaders committed themselves to give these issues high priority.
Children cannot vote, and their voices are not heard in the councils of power where policies are made and resources are allocated. As a lucky man who got a chance to work in key positions in UNICEF at the right time, it was my privilege to help make a case, and insert some goals, for maternal and child health, education and empowerment, child protection and participation – in documents like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the First Call for Children, a World Fit for Children, and the Millennium Declaration.
Broad, worldwide acceptance of these Conventions and Declarations has certainly given a boost to these worthy health and development goals.
As you can see, I am a small man. But I have been incredibly fortunate to work under the
tutelage of inspiring giants like Jim Grant, Richard Jolly, Bill Foege, who taught me all I know about child survival and child rights.
My more recent bosses in UNICEF, Carol Bellamy and Ann Veneman, have also given me the space to continue to be an advocate for children in various fora, and to help forge partnerships like the one for MNCH.
I am delighted that this new partnership is bringing us all together in a holistic effort to promote the “continuum of care” across life cycle and institutional arrangements for more effective results.
I have also been inspired by the exemplary work of other champions of child survival, right here in this room I see Allan Rosenfield, Rob Northrup, Jill Sheffield, Mushtaque Chowdhury and many other heroes, like Nils Dulaire who organizes these great Global Health Council forums.
A special guide for me has been Jon Rohde, who loves his work in the field so much that he has refused to be ever enticed to become a policy apparatchik like some of us at our Headquarters; Ann Tinker, whose pioneering work on saving newborn lives is giving new momentum to the unfinished business of the first child survival revolution; and Charlie McCormick, who as leader of Save the Children, USA, has been in the forefront of world champions in a grand global movement for children.
Let us recall that the mother of that movement was a remarkable English woman named
Eglantyne Jebb. It is she who when accused in a British court of helping the German children behind enemy lines during the first World War had famously said, “My lord, I have no enemy below the age of 11”.
That principled stand, by the founder of Save the Children, that there is no such thing as an enemy child, has been a guiding principle for UNICEF.
It was also Eglantyne Jebb who first authored in 1923 what has today evolved into the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, that is at the heart of UNICEF’s mission today.
So Charlie, UNICEF is actually a latecomer that needs to thank Save the Children for blazing the trail for the great work that we are doing together on child survival, child health, and child protection in the broader context of child rights.
Our work on the continuum of care on maternal, newborn and child health should actually be seen as a first step in an even broader continuum that involves all health-related MDGs.
These, in turn, are part of a continuum embracing all other complementary MDGs that
cumulatively lead to and reinforce an unstoppable movement for human rights and social justice.
As Charlie said, I was born in a small village in the remote hills of Nepal, where my parents and neighbours used to tell us that in those days nearly half the children who were born used to die in their infancy. My mom told me that I almost became part of the other half that didn’t make it.
But, fortunately, though I might look a little stunted, I came out clearly as one of the lucky winners of the lottery of life.
As we celebrate the encouraging report from Neena Khadka, on how great progress is being made in reducing neonatal deaths in Nepal, let us commit ourselves to taking these life-saving interventions to scale in all the high mortality countries of the world.
But at the same time, let us not forget that in the final analysis, the 10.5 million mothers and children who die prematurely in the world, every year are not really killed by diseases, but ultimately by poverty and injustice.
So our vision and dream should be to take the continuum of care: all the way from MNCH to building health systems, eradicating poverty, promoting social justice, safeguarding human rights and fostering human dignity.
That was certainly the vision of my guru and mentor Jim Grant, who inspired me to pursue this line of work.
And that is the spirit in which I accept this honourable recognition you have bestowed on me tonight.