Remarks of Ambassador Powell on Indian National Call To Action For Child Survival

Thursday, February 7, 2013
Child Survival

(As Prepared for delivery)

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I am delighted to be here today to participate in the inaugural session of India’s Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development.
I would like to thank India’s Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad, for his warm invitation and for giving me this opportunity to represent the U.S. Government at this important event.  Minister Azad, we would like to thank you and the Government of India for your collaboration with the United States to promote and implement renewed commitments globally towards ending preventable child deaths through the worldwide Child Survival Call to Action: A Promise Renewed held in Washington last June. 

At the Washington Call to Action, you announced that India will remain in the forefront of the global efforts against child mortality, acknowledging India’s potential to greatly reduce preventable child deaths.  Today’s summit proves the commitment of India’s leaders to both the global community and the children of India.  The U.S. Government is proud to be a part of this initiative, and we look forward to working with the Government of India on addressing critical child survival issues. 

It is particularly significant that this summit is being held in Tamil Nadu, a state that has prioritized the strengthening of its health systems and can be proud of improvements in the health of its citizens.  Improvements in Tamil Nadu’s health and social indicators have been possible because of its commitment to strong governance, contributions from civil society, both from NGOs and the media, and its effective partnerships with the private sector. 

Before I go on to talk about what our two countries can do together on child survival and child development, I want to share why this issue is very important for me. 

I would like to shine a light on a remarkable woman:  former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  Mrs. Roosevelt was highly progressive for her day and devoted herself to advocating for social causes in the United States and around the world.  From women’s empowerment and the welfare of children, to the rights of workers and a world free of racial discrimination, her support for these issues reflects the major role they continue to play across the globe.  Prime Minister Nehru, a visionary leader, must have recognized Mrs. Roosevelt’s enlightened worldview when he invited her to visit India.  In 1952, she brought the same vitality and dedication on her two-month trip to India as she brought to her work in the United States.

The issue of child survival had great significance to Eleanor Roosevelt.  Both in the United States and in India, she made time to meet with children and understand their needs.  She is a major reason why UNICEF is still with us today helping to lead the Call to Action.  Her strong advocacy for UNICEF to be made a permanent United Nations body in the 1950s ensured its continued existence and pre-eminent role in promoting the welfare of children internationally. 

When I came to India, I brought with me a bust of Eleanor Roosevelt.  As the first female American Ambassador to India, I am proud to add her bust to those of the Presidents at Roosevelt House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in India.  This is more than a mark of respect for her accomplishments; it is a symbol of America's continuing efforts to support child survival around the globe.  I formally placed it in my home during a reception I hosted in August last year, and promised the people of India that I would make child survival a priority for the United States in India. 

I believe every child should have the opportunity to survive and grow.  And yet, every year, more than 6.9 million children die globally before reaching their fifth birthday.  This is a tragedy that we can and must address together.

Ending preventable child deaths means, first, giving children a healthy start by promoting good health and nutrition among adolescent girls – India’s future mothers.  It means providing pregnant mothers with quality antenatal care and nutrition during pregnancy.  It means preventing the transmission of HIV from mothers to children during pregnancy, at birth and during infancy.  It means giving newborns a safe delivery and ensuring that they are able to breathe in the first crucial moments of life, so no child dies of asphyxia.  It means keeping newborns warm, sheltered, and breastfed.  It means strengthening pediatric HIV care, and ensuring that available treatment for tuberculosis enables children to survive to age five TB-free.  Reducing child deaths means children must be properly nourished to avoid stunting and other diseases magnified by under-nutrition.  And it means protecting children from infectious diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria with existing and inexpensive technologies like vaccines, antibiotics, and bed-nets.

Today, I feel closer to fulfilling my promise.  We can unite towards the common purpose of ensuring all children live to enjoy their fifth birthday.  We will share experiences, celebrate successes, and pledge to address challenges in implementation.

In the United States, we have set a national goal to bring pre-term births down to 11 percent by 2020.  To reach that goal, we’ve launched a nationwide public-private partnership to raise awareness about bringing pregnancies to full-term.  We’ve taken a family-oriented approach, educating women and their doctors about the dangers of premature births.  We’re funding innovative strategies like maternity medical homes, where pregnant mothers receive coordinated care from psychological support to education on how to care for their infants.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently working to develop the United States’ first national strategy to address infant mortality. 

Similarly, during the past several years, India has also made significant strides in reducing the under-five mortality from 125 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 59 per 1,000 live births in 2010.  

Just last month, I visited the Health of the Urban Poor project, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, that addresses the health care needs of marginalized urban populations.  I saw firsthand how different government departments, NGOs, and private sector groups are converging and bringing the benefits to the women and children in urban poor communities.  While visiting this project in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, I spoke with mothers during community meetings about their concerns for their children’s health.  One woman named Subhashini told me that she now understands the links between unclean water and her child’s frequent diarrhea.  As a result, Subhashini educates her friends and family about the need to boil or purify their water before use.  Another woman, Saraswati, told me how the women’s health group supported by the USAID project encouraged her to have her delivery at the hospital and complete her child’s immunization schedule to protect her baby from vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, measles, and tuberculosis.  These small efforts can deliver big results.

We must keep in mind what former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the June Call to Action event.  She said that we should recognize that children are not born into a vacuum.  They are surrounded by families and communities, and the strengths of those families and communities can mean the difference between life and death.  So when the mother is empowered – she has access to family planning, can make a decision on her child’s health, has access to health services, and can demand accountability of the system – the change will come. 

India has an opportunity to make great gains on child survival with increased commitment and funding for the most effective life-saving practices.  Minister Azad and the Government of India have already accepted the challenge, and I commend them for their leadership.

We have all witnessed the commitment and passion with which India has fought the polio epidemic.  The polio success story in India has shown what India is capable of when all the tools at our disposal are used.

India is on a strong path to achieving the target of reducing child mortality to less than 20 child deaths per 1,000 live births by 2035.  As India continues to focus its resources and efforts on the poorest states and districts, it will address the needs of both rural communities and the urban poor.  India will help educate women and children, and decrease the burden of child deaths from the top killers in this country, such as pre-term births, pneumonia, and diarrhea. 

This rapid progress is largely due to high-impact interventions and tools for child survival, notably new vaccines and improved health care practices.  This progress is also the proof that the technology and the necessary know-how to reach even the most vulnerable children with life-saving practices are available.

As India moves forward, please let me assure you, Minister Azad, and the esteemed members of the audience:  the United States Government is committed to working alongside the Government of India to promote the agenda of global child survival, nutrition, and development. 

We will remain actively engaged in supporting the Government of India as it addresses crucial areas such as newborn care, polio eradication, maternal health and family planning, immunization, nutrition, and capacity building.

I am confident that India’s Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development will inspire each of us to lead and accelerate our action plans for child survival through rich and meaningful discussions over the next three days. 

We are also very encouraged by the African Leadership for Child Survival – A Promise Renewed conference, which the Government of Ethiopia convened last month with the participation of the Ministers of Health from over 20 African countries and global experts.  By signing the pledge, the African countries joined together to share best practices and create a strong coalition to help each other’s children live to see their fifth birthdays.  I am pleased that the U.S. government is partnering with Africa for this significant and historic effort.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to call on government, NGO, donor, academic, and private sector actors to seriously contemplate how we can all work together, using all the strengths and opportunities we have at our disposal, to accelerate and intensify the cause of child survival, nutrition, and development. 

We want all children to survive and thrive until their fifth birthday.  The best practices exist, and we know what works.  What is needed now is unflinching commitment, financial and human resources, sound and coordinated plans, and scaled-up implementation with effective supervision. 

I would like to thank Minister Azad and Minister Gandhiselvan for their commitment to child survival and child development in India.  I would reiterate how proud I am of our longstanding partnership in the health sector, and I know that we have the potential to strengthen this partnership further.

Thank you, Secretary Desiraju, Additional Secretary Gupta, and Joint Secretary Kumar for meticulously planning this event.  With your strong efforts, I know this summit will be successful in meeting our high expectations.

Congratulations to everyone here today who is working to make the India’s Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development a program that the world will look to.  I wish you much success.

Thank you.

Chennai, India
Issuing Country