Policy & Global Development, Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health

Spanish Cooperation's Contribution to Three Great Decades of Progress in Infant Mortality

A report by UNICEF Spain and ISGlobal warns of the risk to these achievements posed by the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo: A report by UNICEF Spain and ISGlobal warns of the risk to these achievements posed by the COVID-19 pandemic

In the current crisis, more than ever, efforts to consolidate and build on the great improvements achieved in child survival must hold firm and continue resolutely to secure lasting results for the world’s most vulnerable children. Today, UNICEF Spain and ISGlobal, a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation, presented a new report entitled La otra pandemia: España y la lucha global contra la neumonía infantil (The Other Pandemic: Spain and the Global Fight Against Childhood Pneumonia.)

“The aim of these reports is to raise awareness about the role Spanish Cooperation has played in the fight against preventable diseases and in this particular case pneumonia, a disease that remains the leading cause of infant mortality among children under 5 years of age,” explains Javier Martos, Executive Director of UNICEF Spain. “With the whole world on alert because of the global spread of COVID-19, the need for multilateral and cross-sectional collaboration and cooperation to prevent deaths due to childhood pneumonia is a more important priority than ever before.”

Case studies in Ethiopia and Mozambique have shown us that deaths from pneumonia can be prevented by two very simple measures: deployment of the vaccine against the disease—pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)—and prompt diagnosis. Early diagnosis saves lives.

In Ethiopia, between 1990 and 2018, infant mortality fell by 267%, from 200 to 55.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, a statistic highlighted in the UNICEF Spain report Etiopía y su lucha por respirar: Estudio de caso sobre la Cooperación Española (Ethiopia and its struggle to breathe: A Spanish Cooperation case study) . During the same period, Mozambique saw an even greater decline in preventable deaths, with a 400% reduction to 71 deaths per 1,000 live births. These statistics demonstrate the importance of investing in health systems capable of preventing and curtailing future pandemics and ensuring prompt treatment when these events occur.

“Mozambique is a good place to see what has been achieved in global health, but also to see how far we still need to go together. Nobody on this planet is safe from tragedies like COVID-19 if everyone is not safe. That is the message Spain must embody in its cooperation policies and budgets,” explains Gonzalo Fanjul, Director of Policy Analysis at ISGlobal.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, experts predicted that 52 million children under the age of five years would die by 2030. It is now estimated that an additional 1.2 million children under five could die in the next six months alone due to disruptions in routine health service coverage and an increase in child wasting caused by the global pandemic.

At least 80 million children under one year of age are at risk of contracting diseases such as diphtheria, measles and poliomyelitis as a result of interruptions in vaccination campaigns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Africa, almost 23 million children are at risk.

These statistics highlight the need for us to join forces and increase efforts to end these preventable deaths. Experience has taught us that almost all deaths caused by pneumonia can be easily prevented by immunisation and that the disease can be treated with low-cost antibiotics and oxygen. Deaths can be prevented with initiatives that promote primary health care and Universal Health Coverage.

It is therefore essential to support routine immunisation for other diseases at the same time as we work to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Last Thursday, 18 June, the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation addressed the Committee on International Cooperation of the Spanish Congress to present Spanish Cooperation’s proposed approach to the COVID-19 crisis and the road map for a major reform of its legal, institutional and strategic framework in the coming legislature. These plans largely reflect the recommendations proposed in this report:

  1. The commitment to progressively rebuild Spain’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, with the target of reaching 0.5% of GNI by the end of the legislature.
  2. The development of a Global Health strategy.
  3. A commitment to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.


The organisations who have made these recommendations will work with the Government, Congress and the Senate and collaborate in all the venues for debate and participation created to help Spanish Cooperation to contribute as a priority to saving the lives of the more than 800,000 children aged under five who die each year from preventable diseases.