New studies shows that reaching the ‘low-hanging fruit’ is the not best approach for reducing child poverty

The global community can save millions of lives by investing first in the most disadvantaged children and communities, according to new reports launched by UNICEF and Save the Children this week. Such an approach would also address the widening gaps that are accompanying progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Save the Children argue that many of the MDGs focus on reaching the ‘low-hanging fruit’ with interventions that target those who are easier to reach and generally better-off rather than really trying to reach the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable. This is contributing to the fact that MDG 4, which aims to reduce child death rates, is dramatically off-track.

UNICEF’s findings are presented in two publications: ‘Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals’ and ‘Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity’.

By comparing the effectiveness of different strategies for delivering critical health interventions to those in greatest need, the UNICEF study found that targeting the poorest and most disadvantaged children is actually a smarter investment and could save more lives per pound spent than the current path.

“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.”

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 per cent 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.

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 marginalised communities is the key to reducing inequities and achieving MDG 4.

Save the Children warn that the number of deaths of children in developing countries has fallen but global targets will be missed if developing countries do not focus on helping the poorest communities. They argue that an extra four million of the world’s poorest children died over 10 years because governments are “turning a blind eye” to those most in need.

Achieving the MDGs while leaving the poorest children and families behind violates the spirit of the goals argues Save the Children. RESULTS UK couldn’t agree more and that is why we have consistently advocated for the UK government to invest in interventions that target the very poorest. Whether these interventions relate to health, education, microfinance or any other form of human development, it is crucial that the poorest members of society are not excluded.

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