Countdown to 2015 was established in 2005 as a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional collaboration, in response to a growing recognition, increasingly backed by resources, that achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals will demand radical changes to the scale and scope of effective strategies. Since its beginnings, The Lancet has been a key Countdown partner.
In 2003, the Bellagio Lancet Child Survival Series helped raise global awareness of more than 10 million deaths occurring each year in children under age five, mainly from preventable conditions that rarely affect children in wealthy countries. In 2005 a second Lancet series focused on the approximately 4 million annual deaths among newborns. A common theme in these Lancet series was the call for a systematic mechanism to track progress in achieving high, sustainable, and equitable coverage with interventions proven to reduce child mortality — ‘coverage’ being defined as the proportion of individuals needing a service or intervention who actually receive it. The development of Countdown to 2015 came in response to this call, building on efforts started in the 1990s to monitor progress towards the goals of the World Summit for Children. Countdown committed itself to convening a series of meetings, every two to three years, to provide regular opportunities for the world to take stock of progress in preventing child deaths and to hold countries and their partners accountable.
The first international Countdown conference, focusing on newborn and child survival in the highest-burden countries, was hosted in London in December 2005 by 12 organizations.
In subsequent years, special Lancet series focused on maternal survival, child development in low and middle-income countries, sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child undernutrition, health systems, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Special issues of The Lancet were also published for the Women Deliver conferences in both 2007 and 2010, highlighting the importance of investing in women’s health. In combination, the groundbreaking articles and forceful commentaries published in these Lancet series helped to focus a new level of international attention not only on each of these global health issues but on the overriding importance of the continuum of care for maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH).
Countdown’s focus broadened during its 2008 cycle to encompass the MNCH continuum of care, and effective maternal and reproductive health interventions were added to the list of interventions that it tracks. Countdown’s second international conference, held in April 2008 in Cape Town, South Africa, in tandem with an assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, provided government leaders with greater awareness of, and new opportunities for involvement in, efforts to save women’s and children’s lives. Countdown’s third international conference took place in Washington, D.C. in June 2010, in conjunction with the global Women Deliver conference, and featured special sessions dedicated to providing the latest evidence, country by country, on the progress, obstacles and solutions to achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.
Countdown’s Reports (published in 2005, 2008, and 2010, and 2012) discuss coverage and its major determinants, including patterns of equity, policies, health system performance measures, and financial flows to maternal, newborn, and child health, at both the global and country levels. The central element of Countdown’s Reports is the country profile, a presentation of key health and survival statistics, coverage levels, and policy, financial, and equity indicators that Countdown has published regularly for all high burden countries. Articles on Countdown data and analysis have also been published in The Lancet and other journals.
Looking forward, Countdown will
- Continue to compile and publish reports, country profiles, and cross-cutting research on reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health
- Play a major role in ensuring accountability for fulfillment of commitments related to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, the workplan of the Commission on Information and Accountability, and pledges to end preventable child deaths through the Commitment to Child Survival and A Promise Renewed.
- Deepen its engagement and impact at the country level through focused, cross-cutting research and support for Country Countdowns.