Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you, Executive Director Veneman.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here today. Might I begin on a personal note – like many Americans, I first heard of the United Nations as a child, when I was about the same age as my 6-year-old daughter Maris. My first images of the UN were not the blue helmets of its peacekeepers but the orange and black of the UNICEF boxes I carried door to door each Halloween. So UNICEF has always symbolized for me our shared responsibilities to one another as human beings and our collective obligation to forge a more secure, just, and prosperous world for future generations. As some of you may also know, I continue to have a very personal connection to UNICEF, having served for seven years, until last year, on the Board of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
So, I am pleased that my country, the United States, cherishes our strong relationship with UNICEF, and we are very proud of what you have achieved for children around the world. UNICEF is a crucial partner, and we very much look forward to strengthening this relationship in the years to come. To that end, the United States is proud to be UNICEF’s largest single donor. We are committed to continuing to work with the U.S. Congress to maintain that steadfast financial commitment to UNICEF, and with the American public in support of private contributions.
And the reasons why are clear and compelling. The Executive Director’s Annual Report provides a snapshot of UNICEF’s life-changing programs to improve children’s health and well-being in more than 150 countries, with support from its many government, agency, foundation, and corporate partners. Let me highlight some particularly striking efforts.
One truly extraordinary success story relates to measles, where a partnership among UNICEF, the WHO, the UN Foundation, and the American Red Cross has slashed global deaths from this disease by a stunning 74 percent in just seven years. UNICEF and others have also leveraged more than $2 billion in additional funds to combat malaria. These resources will bring us closer to the goal of global coverage with insecticide-treated bed-nets in developing countries. Concerned member states and partners must now ensure the thorough, professional, and worldwide implementation of the Roll Back Malaria strategy.
UNICEF is also the global leader in vaccine supply. It has protected more than half of the world’s children from deadly diseases. And last week, President Obama announced a new global effort, along with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio. We still face outbreaks of wild polio virus, and we will continue to partner with UNICEF and others to combat this disease.
UNICEF is also one of our key partners in moving to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals. President Obama has said that the Millennium Development Goals are now America’s goals. We are grateful for UNICEF’s role in programs worldwide, executed through its Medium Term Strategic Plan, that help produce measurable progress toward reaching these lifesaving goals, which are the crucial barometer of our collective efforts.
Similarly, we welcome UNICEF’s increased focus on maternal and newborn health. Healthy mothers are a lifeline for their children and a precious resource for their communities. The best research has shown us some of the essential elements needed to reduce maternal mortality: skilled birth attendants, affordable emergency obstetric care when needed, family planning assistance where desired. The Global Health Initiative that President Obama announced on May 5 will provide new support for efforts to save the lives of infants and their mothers.
We also very much appreciate UNICEF’s work toward the Millennium Development Goals related to primary education and gender equality. UNICEF’s efforts to expand education for girls will help ensure that our daughters enjoy the same opportunities as our sons. We strongly support UNICEF’s emphasis on getting children into school and keeping them there, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, class, or caste. UNICEF also plays an invaluable role in promoting access to education even in the midst of crisis and conflict, thus reducing the harm that violence inflicts on children and their schooling.
But there is much more to do. Millions of children still suffer from violence, exploitation, and abuse, including child labor, forced military recruitment, and sex-trafficking. UNICEF is doing essential work with governments to strengthen the laws and institutions that protect vulnerable children. And, we applaud UNICEF’s support for establishing specialized children’s courts and police units by helping train judiciary and police services, and we commend the accomplishments of UNICEF’s Child Protection Section. The United States, for its part, is currently reviewing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and we remain committed to working with the international community to promote many of the principles embodied in it.
Finally, Mr. President, we welcome the efforts by the Executive Director and member states to make UNICEF more transparent and accountable. We believe that a better-run and more cost-effective United Nations is in our shared interest. The adoption of the UNICEF accountability system will be a convincing step toward that goal, and we thank the partners and members states that are helping to make it possible.
As the global economic slowdown threatens public and private contributions alike, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that UNICEF’s vital work continues. Failing to do so would jeopardize the lives and wellbeing of millions of children, those already at greatest risk. So the United States remains deeply committed to UNICEF—and profoundly grateful for its efforts to improve the lives of children everywhere. Working together, with good will, intensity, and great energy, we can build upon the extraordinary progress we have already made for the world’s children. We look forward to continuing our important work together. We can do more. We will do more. And the United States is ready to do its part.
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