Bill Clinton photo

Remarks Honoring UNICEF Health Heroes

December 21, 1993

Thank you. Thank you very much, Jim. Hillary and I are delighted to have you and so many of your friends from around America here today for the presentation of this report. We especially appreciate the presence here—I see Senator Leahy, Senator Sarbanes, and Congressman Obey. I don't know if Senator Dole and Congressman Porter are here, but I think they were coming. I'm delighted to see, from the administration, Tim Wirth from the State Department; Secretary Shalala from HHS; our United Nations Ambassador, Madeleine Albright; our AID Administrator, Brian Atwood; and the Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders. There are many other distinguished people here, but most of all I'm glad to see the children here. For after all, we're here to celebrate a season filled with the joy of children and to remind ourselves of much of the work still to be done.

James Agee once wrote, "In every child who is born under no matter what circumstances, the potentiality of the human race is born again, and in him, too, our terrific responsibility toward human life, toward the utmost idea of goodness, the horror of error, and of God." We are here in part to note the outstanding work of the fine man who just spoke.

Jim Grant and UNICEF are among the best friends any child could have. UNICEF was the driving force behind the historic world summit for children 3 years ago when leaders of 150 nations met to define the goals for improving health and welfare of our children by the year 2000. Jim and UNICEF continue to see that all the rest of us do our part to make progress toward those goals.

Today, with the annual State of the World's Children Report, UNICEF lays down another marker for the rest of us. The U.S. Agency for International Development also releases its own report on child survival. And these impressive reports both mark the progress that has been made as well as outlining what still we must do. They document, for example, that over the past decade the international community has reduced the instances of some of the world's worst childhood diseases: measles, polio, and neo-natal tetanus, by over half. Yet we have still so much to do. Around the world, children suffer more than anyone else from poverty, malnutrition, disease, environmental decay, and even armed conflict. Today and every day in villages and neighborhoods around the globe, 30,000 children will die from malnutrition and preventable disease. As Jim has noted, behind each of these statistics there's a face, a family, a set of hopes and dreams, and a future that now will never be.

And while the plight of children abroad is especially acute, we must never forget that poverty, hunger, and disease are not strangers to our children here in the United States. One of every five of our children lives in poverty. By the time they're 15 years old, nearly one-third of our children in inner cities will have known someone who has died violently. One of my highest goals is to see that the next generation of our children grows up with more health, more security, more safety, and more hope than those of this generation. That's one of the reasons why we worked so hard for the Family and Medical Leave Act, for the new crime bill, for the Brady bill, and perhaps most importantly, for universal health care coverage for all of our people.

The First Lady and Secretary Shalala and others are working on a health care reform plan that, when enacted, will provide complete preventive care and health security for over 8 million American children that today are uninsured. We're working to boost the immunization rate of our 2-year-olds to 90 percent; striving to ensure adequate nutrition for all of our children, including full funding for the women, infants and children's feeding program; fighting the plague of violence against our children; and committed also to improving the lives of children in other lands, not out of simple charity but also out of prudence, because investing in the children of the world can be the most cost-effective way not only to relieve suffering but to advance economies, to promote self-sufficiency, to promote democracy, and to avert future conflicts.

There have been times when the fight for the world's children seemed to be a losing one. But the children's summit and related events have transformed that frustration into hope. Our own Nation can take pride in decades of our leadership, with bipartisan support here at home on behalf of worldwide efforts to improve children's health.

The continuing leadership of this Nation is revealed in the work of the six health heroes we will honor here today and countless others like them. Building on their contributions and concentrating on the most cost-effective way of helping children, we're making great strides in areas like immunization and child nutrition. We're determined to build on this progress.

Under the direction of AID Director Brian Atwood, we proposed an overhaul of our foreign assistance programs to reflect new times and new priorities. At the heart of this is a vision for sustainable development centered on human development, a vision that will help us to make progress in child health, population, and environmental protection, a cause the Vice President has done so much to advance. Working with UNICEF and other governmental and nongovernmental organizations, we want to make those goals at the children's summit come true. That's the best Christmas present we could give to the world.

So today I call on Americans in private and public life to join with leaders in developing nations to help ensure that we do make tangible progress, especially in three key areas. First, by the year 2000, we ought to set our sights on getting 90 percent of the world's children vaccinated for measles and on virtually eradicating polio, as surely as the world eradicated smallpox decades ago. Second, we should strive to give at least 80 percent of the world's children access to lifesaving treatment for the world's two biggest childhood killers, diarrhea and pneumonia. Third, on nutrition, the world can make enormous improvements through simple steps such as eliminating Vitamin A deficiency, which can be deadly, and by promoting more breast feeding for infants.

These are simple low-cost strategies. They don't require space-age technology. They rely on basic medicines, inexpensive vaccines, drinkable water, access to family planning, and expanded educational opportunities, especially for women and girls. And we can afford to do our part in this effort because the financial burden will be shared among many nations.

If we let the world's children suffer, we know that in time we'll reap a bitter harvest of despair and desperation and violence. We know that when children grow up healthy and nurtured, they're more likely to do better by their own children, they're more likely to become citizens and contributors, more likely to add to the global marketplace. This is how free societies and open markets evolve, how global progress happens, how future friends of the United States and these children will be created.

We still call this, I think instructively, the post-cold-war era. The problem with that designation is it tells us where we've been but not where we're going. We have to chart a new path, channeling the remarkable forces at work in this era with a bold vision of what might be. Let us today commit that our children and the world's children will figure large in that vision, that the post-cold-war era will instead be the world's era of peace and prosperity and humanity in which our minds and hearts work together to give all children a better life.

Now I'd like to ask our six health heroes to step forward and to be recognized for the outstanding work they've done. First, Dr. Gretchen Berggren, being recognized for her lifelong commitment to the health of the world's children as a medical missionary and an innovator in community-based nutrition and primary health care; next, Dr. William Foege, for his long commitment to the health of the world's children through his global leadership on immunization goals and the eradication of smallpox; Dr. Norbert Hirschorn, for his distinguished career in public health and his leadership in demonstrating the value of oral rehydration therapy to change children's lives all around the world; Dr. Donald Hopkins, for his leadership in the global effort to eradicate Guinea worm and other diseases and to assure safe water and better sanitation to support children's health around the world; Patrice Jeliffe, for her lifetime commitment to the world's children as a public health expert, promoting breast feeding and appropriate weaning foods and practices in the developing world; Dr. Carl E. Taylor, for his sustained work around the world, from India to Beijing, which has demonstrated key linkages among nutrition, family size, and other efforts on child survival.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:28 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jim Grant, American Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

William J. Clinton, Remarks Honoring UNICEF Health Heroes Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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