The head of the U.N. Children’s Fund office in Tokyo is calling on the government to try to narrow gaps among the poor in its efforts to help achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction.

In a recent interview, Kunihiko Hirabayashi, director of the UNICEF Tokyo office, expressed the hope that Japan will be “a front-runner” in seeking equity in global attempts to meet the MDGs at an upcoming summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York designed to review progress on the program. The goals were set in 2000 for achievement in 2015.

The eight development goals include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, halting the spread of HIV, promoting gender equality, reducing the mortality rate of children and providing universal education. The MDGs Summit will be held on Sept. 20-22.

Citing a recent UNICEF report that found disparities have been widening between the richest and poorest groups within developing nations, rural and urban populations, and boys and girls, Hirabayashi said Japan should introduce its “success story of achieving equitable growth” following the nation’s defeat in World War II.

“I would like Japan, which managed to raise productivity and establish an equitable society after the war, to announce at the MDGs Summit that it is against widening disparities and committed to delivering necessary services to all the children,” he said.

Although the influence of Japan on the international scene as a major economic power has been declining in the shadow of China’s rapid rise, the UNICEF Tokyo office chief said Tokyo should “take pride in its goal of creating an equitable world by investing in humans.”

“The international community still wants Japan’s contributions, which need not be financial ones. I would like to see Japanese values reflected” in global efforts to reduce poverty, he said.

The UNICEF study says, as an example, that children from the poorest 20 percent of households in the developing world are more than twice as likely to die before reaching their fifth birthday as children from the richest 20 percent of households.

Reducing mortality among children aged under 5 by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 is part of the MDGs. Hirabayashi pointed out that the 2000-2015 goals only focus on the overall picture and do not take into account indicators of gaps.

Comparing the effectiveness of different strategies for delivering health services, the U.N. agency’s study found that targeting the poorest and most disadvantaged children could save more lives per $1 million spent than the current path.

Hirabayashi, a heart surgeon who became the Tokyo office chief in April, also urged the government to declare at the MDGs Summit its dedication to seamless health care for mothers and children.

“A large number of mothers and children will be saved if women receive proper health care in the stage of pregnancy and child birth and children are given vaccinations and maternal feeding” in a certain time frame, he said.

“I want the government to deliver a package of continued health care services that would cater to the lives of mothers and children,” Hirabayashi said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.