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UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 1 | Jan. 3, 2008

NBT: Committing to the World’s Children

By Dr. Robert Armstrong
Associate Professor and Head, Department of Pediatrics

Can you imagine that you are the parent of a delightful four-year-old girl who yesterday was full of life, but today is going to die? You are desperate for help and devastated as life is slowly snatched from her. Can you imagine your confusion, sadness and anger if you knew that your daughter’s problem was treatable and that her death was easily preventable?

Unfortunately this is the reality every year for as many as 10 million families around the world who experience tragedy. This is the reason the United Nations has made a commitment to children and to their families to reduce the 1990 under-five mortality rate by two thirds and to achieve this by 2015. This is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that all nations have committed to reach. (see : www.mdgmonitor.org).

The Millennium Development Goals also commit to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and reduce maternal mortality during pregnancy. These improvements are fundamental to the healthy growth and development of children, and demonstrate recognition that children are the future of a nation. The challenge is significant, with recent estimates identifying that more than 200 million children under the age of five are not reaching their developmental potential despite the fact that we know how to help (see www.thelancet.com/collections/series).

So, the next great advance is not in finding the “cure” for a “disease,” but in getting the cures we know to those who need them, when they need them. The challenge is enormous, but the payoff is great.

The advance we are seeing is the building of collaborative commitment to action -- not exactly earth shattering, but if successful worthy of a Nobel Prize. Many examples of this new collaborative goal attainment are evident: the Norway Initiative (with the Canadian Government and UNICEF Canada as key partners), the initiatives of Bill and Melinda Gates, and here at home the partnership that Frank Giustra has established with the Clinton Foundation to reduce poverty and build sustainable economies.

Collaboration starts with commitment. President Stephen Toope has committed that UBC will play an increasingly important role through reaching out globally and building partnerships in education, research and service learning. I have led the establishment of one such partnership with the BC Children’s Hospital and the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation: The Centre for International Child Health (CICH). The CICH has been created through the commitment of the Children’s Hospital Foundation to establish a $10M endowment and is the first such centre in Canada.

CICH is building sustained partnerships with influential “change agents” within key regions of the world where we can have a multiplier effect. At the same time CICH is engaging partners from across Canada and beyond to collaborate in building these sustained relationships.

Over the last three years CICH, in partnership with UBC, has worked with the Children’s Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai to establish innovative training programs in children’s heart surgery, neonatology, infectious diseases, and emergency medicine. The focus is on supporting these institutions to reach out to other institutions to improve the quality of care to children in China, where there are 250 million children under the age of 15 years and where mortality and morbidity is still a significant problem. This initiative brings together health professionals from across Canada to provide a continuous Canadian presence in China to teach trainees at Fudan. The trainees come from across China and will go back with the knowledge and skills to lead change in their communities.

In 2007 UBC, with the support of CICH, signed a cooperation agreement with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. This agreement involves several departments at UBC and commits to building a partnership focused on maternal and child health that will assist Uganda in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

The Human Early Learning Partnership, based at UBC, has become the host site for the World Health Organization (WHO) Hub for Early Child Development and UBC is working with the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, Pakistan, as they establish a Human Development Institute that will have a primary focus on early child development in South Asia and Africa. I am currently working with researchers at AKU to implement a research program that will evaluate models for scaling up early intervention programs.

There are many more examples of our UBC commitment. The great advance will be in building common vision and bringing together partners to achieve more than an individual or individual institution can achieve. What a great advance it would be to achieve the world’s vision: The Millennium Development Goals.

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Last reviewed 21-Dec-2007

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