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Narrowing the Gap: Investing in the Poorest Children

On June 28, the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) released its report “Narrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children.” The new peer-reviewed report compiled data from 2003-2016 and supports the claim that investing in the health of the world’s poorest communities saves lives and is cost-effective. The following are 10 facts learned from the compelling report.

  1. This report is a result of UNICEF’s 2010 prediction that although the cost of reaching the poorest children is high, greater results would outweigh the cost.
  2. The key finding in “Narrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children” is that for every million dollars invested in the most deprived populations, the number of lives saved is nearly double that saved by an equal investment in other populations.
  3. The number of lives saved is even greater for children under five. More than four more lives are saved per $1 million invested in poor communities compared with other communities.
  4. In this report, people living on an average income below $3.10 per day were considered to be poor.
  5. Children living in extreme poverty are twice as likely to die before five years of age than children living in better circumstances. Most die from preventable diseases.
  6. While progress was made to address the global under-five mortality rate, UNICEF discovered that until recently little to no progress was achieved to lower preventable childhood deaths, specifically among the world’s poorest communities.
  7. The report analyzed data from 51 countries and found that gaps in health coverage between poor and non-poor populations narrowed in 37 of the 51 countries by the end of the study. Coverage did not decrease for non-poor populations, coverage increased for both.
  8. In the final year of the study, UNICEF estimated that 1.1 million lives were saved due to increases in coverage, including 940,000 lives from impoverished populations.
  9. However, UNICEF’s prediction is that by 2030, 70 million children under the age of five will still die from preventable diseases unless action is taken.
  10. To prevent this from happening, the report suggests governments and organizations identify the poorest children and communities. Governments should then invest in proven, low-cost high-impact interventions, strengthen health systems, work with the private sector to spur innovation and monitor results to ensure equity between poor and non-poor populations.

While previous thought may have suggested that investing in the extreme poor is a hopeless cause, UNICEF’s report “Narrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Poorest Children” clearly shows that doing so saves more lives and is more cost-effective. Pursuing equity in health coverage between and investment in poor and non-poor communities is right not just in principle but also in practice.

Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr