Islamabad - Some 352,000 children die every year before reaching the age of five in Pakistan and majority of them die of preventable diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea.

Many families have inadequate or no access to medicines and skilled health workers. The under-nutrition among children is high and 44 per cent children under 5 are stunted. The routine immunisation system is weak and immunisation coverage is only 66 per cent in urban and 48 per cent in rural areas. As per Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13, one in every 14 Pakistani children dies before reaching the age of one and one in every 11 does not survive to his or her 5th birthday.

Save the Children Pakistan in collaboration with Friends Foundation organised its annual global campaign mobilisation event ‘Race for Survival’ on Friday, coinciding with the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The children from both public and private schools of Islamabad and Rawalpindi joined over 35,000 children in at least 65 countries across the globe to help raise awareness of the millions of children struggling to survive in some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities on the planet.

This year’s theme for the Race is “The world’s toughest places to survive.” The theme reflects one of the key barriers to achieving millennium development goal (MDG) # 4 (reducing child mortality), identified in Save the Children’s 2013 Lives on the Line report. It was run by 360 children between the ages of 11 to 13 years in Islamabad, Lahore and Sanghar.

In Islamabad, the Race was inaugurated by Maiza Hameed, member National Assembly of Pakistan. She said the child mortality rate in Pakistan has remained unchanged for the last 20 years. “We have the highest stillbirth rate due to deteriorating health services and security situation for health workers,” she said. However, she claimed the government was vigilant in taking all necessary actions. She added, “We do not accept that such a high number of children are dying of preventable causes every day. Let us be outraged, let us be loud and let us be bold.”

Arshad Mahmood, director advocacy and campaign child rights governance, Save the Children, talked about the global significance of the campaign and said that this should be a call to the government to focus on the issue of child health through the Race. He said that thousands of children around the world would take to the streets in organised running races to call for action to save the lives of millions of children living in the world’s most unforgiving environments. Mahmood also shed light on the issue of lack of access to frontline health workers, malnutrition and weak routine immunisation system and stated that the federal and provincial governments should take measures to resolve these issues by preparing plans and making adequate budgetary allocations.

Dr Abid Sulehri, executive director SDPI, highlighted the issue of malnutrition in Pakistan and requested the government to initiate school health and nutrition programmes in districts with poor nutrition situation.

Manizeh Bano, executive director Sahil, acknowledged the role of lady health workers and urged the government to increase their number in the country and ensure their safety during their work for a more active role.

The children participated to call on all countries and Pakistan’s government to do five things for children, no matter where they are born: plan and budget to save every child’s life and implement these plans effectively; fully vaccinate every child; put in place the specific measures for every newborn to survive the crucial first month of life; put a health worker, properly trained, supported and equipped, within the reach of every child; and give every child access to a nutritious diet and make this an aim of social and agricultural policies and programmes.

Other participants included parents and guardians, schoolteachers, senior government officials and the media.