September 07, 2010 10:27 ET

New UNICEF Study: Meeting Millennium Development Goals for Children Requires Targeted Spending on Most Disadvantaged

Current Strategy Leaving World's Poorest Children Behind

NEW YORK, NEW YORK and TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 7, 2010) - The global community can save millions of lives by investing first in the most disadvantaged children and communities, according to a groundbreaking UNICEF study released today. The important new findings are presented in two publications: Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals and Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity, UNICEF's signature data compendium.

While great progress is being made in international efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals, much more needs to be done over the next five years to address the growing disparity in basic survival indicators between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. 

Among its most important conclusions, the study shows that targeting critical health interventions to the poorest and most disadvantaged children could save more lives per US $1 million spent than the current path. In addition to saving more lives, such an approach would also address the widening inequities that are accompanying progress toward the MDGs.

"Our findings challenge the traditional thinking that focusing on the poorest and most disadvantaged children is not cost-effective," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF's Executive Director. "An equity-focused strategy will yield not only a moral victory – right in principle – but an even more exciting one: right in practice."

The study was undertaken in consultation with a range of outside experts, who described the main findings as both surprising and significant.

"The results of the UNICEF study made me think that the equity focus can be persuasive on an instrumental as well as a values basis," said Lawrence Haddad, Director of the respected Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, author of the blog, Development Horizons, and a participant in the working group of outside experts who reviewed the study's preliminary modeling.

Key findings of the UNICEF study include:

• An equity-focused approach improves returns on investment, averting many more child and maternal deaths and episodes of stunting than the alternative.

• Using the equity approach, a US $1 million investment in reducing under-five deaths in a low-income, high-mortality country would avert an estimated 60% more deaths than the current approach.

• Because national burdens of disease, ill health and illiteracy are concentrated in the most impoverished child populations, providing these children with essential services can greatly accelerate progress towards the MDGs and reduce disparities within nations.

Progress for Children: Meeting the MDGs with Equity, UNICEF's signature report on progress toward the MDGs, presents evidence of disparities across a range of key indicators, including between developing and industrial nations, between richest and poorest quintiles within nations, between rural and urban populations, and between boys and girls. Key data include:

• Children from the poorest 20 percent of households in the developing world are more than twice as likely to die before reaching their fifth birthdays as children from the richest 20 percent of households.

• Children in the poorest quintiles of their societies are more than twice as likely to be underweight and face a much greater risk of stunting compared to children from the richest quintiles.

• Despite great strides towards achieving gender parity in primary education over the past decade, girls and young women in developing regions remain at a considerable disadvantage in access to education, particularly at the secondary level.

• Of the 884 million people who lack access to improved drinking water sources, 84 per cent of them live in rural areas.

The UNICEF reports are being released in conjunction with a report by Save the Children, "A Fair Chance at Life: Why Equity Matters for Children," which focuses on MDG 4, reducing under-5 mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. The Save the Children report examines the disparities in progress on child survival between the wealthy and less well-off in countries around the world. It asserts that reaching marginalized communities is the key to reducing inequities and achieving MDG 4.

"The Millennium Declaration was designed to improve the lives of the world's most disadvantaged people," said Lake. "We believe this study's findings can have a real effect on global thinking about how we are pursuing the MDGs, and about human development generally -- helping us to improve the lives of millions of vulnerable children."

Attention broadcasters:

Video footage and high resolution images will be available free of charge at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef


UNICEF is the world's leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children's lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

Contact Information

  • For further information, to arrange an interview, or to
    obtain a copy of the report, please contact:
    UNICEF Canada, Chris Tidey
    + 1 416 482-4444 or Cell + 1 416 529 7680