Peter Salama, Unicef Representative to Ethiopia, makes closing remarks at “African Leadership for Child Survival” held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 18,  2013. Photo credit: UNICEF

Last Friday, it was a real honor for me to take part in the closing ceremony of the African Leadership on Child Survival – A Promise Renewed (ALCS/APR), together with H. E. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Minister of Health in Ethiopia, my esteemed colleague Dennis Weller, USAID mission director to Ethiopia, and my African colleagues in health and development.

In June 2012, during the first Call to Action – Promise Renewed meeting in Washington D.C., Dr. Tedros had committed that Ethiopia would host an African Leadership for Child Survival Conference that was linked to the AU summit. That promise is now fulfilled and I wish to thank Dr. Tedros and Dr. Kesete and all of the colleagues at the Ministry of Health for making this all African meeting a reality and a success.

The pledge signed by the African countries present and the consensus reached by the conference are both significant and historic. The event has marked a new era for the African continent in which it is no longer acceptable for any child to die an untimely and preventable death.

As we have seen at this meeting, in many ways the progress made in the health sector in Ethiopia, as well as many other African countries, has become a  powerful global symbol of what can be achieved in resource-constrained environments and has given many international partners renewed faith in the development enterprise.

To accelerate progress we need to do some things differently. Dramatic reductions in preventable child deaths can be achieved through concerted action in five critical areas, outlined in the global roadmap: geographical focus, high burden populations, high impact solutions, gender equality, and mutual accountability and financing.

The theme of equity, in all its dimensions, has come out very strongly through the conference conclusions on geography, gender equality and high burden populations. We know that as much as we have made global progress on child survival in recent decades so too have we seen an increasing concentration of child deaths in Africa which now accounts for around half of all the world’s child mortality.

During the three days, we have also seen that the highest rates of death are now overwhelming in fragile states and conflict-affected countries and regions. This demands that our attention also be placed on governance issues and on human security. There is a major role here, not only for the United Nations but also for regional institutions, and is why the role of the AU will be even more paramount as we move forward on this initiative. Indeed we are very hopeful that with the Ethiopia government taking over the chair of the AU in 2013, maternal and child survival will be seen as not only a health and development issue but as a peace and security issue. It seems auspicious that the African Leadership on Child Survival has taken place right before the AU heads of state meeting next week. I sincerely hope that the recommendations of this conference are shared with the AU leadership and head of states for their endorsement.

We have seen the strong leadership of African governments in this process. This is not an initiative led by UNICEF or USAID or any other partner, and it is very refreshing to see that this initiative and the commitments being made are home-grown. All countries have existing strategies and plans for improving maternal, newborn and child health. Integration of the ALSC/APR initiative with local processes, rather than setting up vertical mechanisms, will be important. Government should also coordinate efforts of various partners and the different initiatives and synthesize them into a coherent whole at the country level.

One of the most exciting aspects of the meeting and the overall process for me is to have seen the peer to peer dynamic in action. I know the lesson learning and sharing of good practices from country to country will continue over the coming months and that many countries are planning study visits to other African countries. We should nurture this dynamic at all costs. I believe the seeds of success and of sustainability for us in African have been planted by all at this meeting. By working hand in hand, we can and we will end all preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths, and thus complete the work begun under the child survival revolution.