On a new webpage developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), there are some cute pictures of five-year-old faces that might look familiar. Visitors can see a five-year-old version of actress Mandy Moore sporting a tutu, a teeny Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) on a toboggan in the snow, and even a wee USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in what looks like one of his first grade school yearbook photos.
Why the trip down memory lane? An attempt to draw attention to a child survival call to action set to launch in June, USAID is spearheading a campaign to end preventable child deaths entitled “Every child deserves a fifth birthday.” To that end, they are encouraging people to upload pictures to the new site to support and draw attention to the cause.
The site touts that child mortality has been reduced by 70 percent over the last 50 years, but more than 7 million children still die every year from preventable diseases, half of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The site serves as a rallying cry to “expand access to lifesaving solutions while developing new tools needed to take us the last mile” in ending preventable child deaths.
At a campaign launch event Monday at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Administrator Shah and a panel of global health experts called on members of the audience to rally behind this one cause, rather than various different diseases.
“In my opinion rallying behind decreasing child deaths makes sense,” said panelist Amanda Glassman, director of Global Health Policy and a research fellow at the Center for Global Development. “There is a lot of jockeying and competition for resources, but setting one goal for right now is a gateway to get people involved and engaged before you can then move them up the ladder to see the larger picture.”
The goal of the campaign is to educate Americans on the disparity in child survival rates and make them more aware of the current capacity to save children’s lives with very cost-effective investments. The U.S. spends $2 billion every year on various programs that impact child survival – from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to the President’s Malaria Initiative—and recent reductions in child mortality in countries like Rwanda (more than 50 percent), Tanzania and Ethiopia (28 percent for both) are testament that the simple, cost-effective interventions being deployed through these programs are saving lives.
The campaign supports initiatives to improve nutrition, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, provide essential newborn care, and promote health timing and spacing of pregnancies to reduce preventable child deaths before the age of five, more than 70 percent of which occur during the first year of life. To educate the audience on the present capacity to save children’s lives, Shah brought out a backpack full of tools (click here to learn more about them) that can be used to improve a child’s chances of survival, which included:
- An orange flesh sweet potato (a food known for its amazing nutritional attributes)
- A nutritional supplement
- Neviripine pills (an antiretroviral used for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which Shah called an “almost costless strategy.”)
- Zync supplements (to prevent diarrhea)
- A syringe of childhood vaccines
- Oral rehydration packets
- A bed net, and
- A new mask to prevent asphyxia during birth.
All of these tools together cost about $30, Shah said. “Together they can be used anywhere to help a child have a healthy start to life and reach their fifth birthday.”
A cause for concern is that half of the annual 7 million child deaths occur in just five countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, China and Nigeria. Historically they haven’t done well at funding these goals themselves, according to Glassman, and the U.S. doesn’t have a huge amount of leverage in these countries where aid doesn’t represent a huge amount of their spending on health. But as countries around the world grow, panelists agreed more needs to be done to encourage them to devote more resources to their children.
“The U.S. share of global health spending has been going up over the past few years,” Shah said, mentioning the $7.9 billion for global health programs included in the president’s request to Congress for fiscal year 2013. “We need to work with other donors to address that and do what we can to change it.”
To accelerate their efforts, Shah said they plan to build clear and measureable goals; identify regions and countries critical to attaining these goals, identify partners to lead the effort to drive success. The campaign’s Child Survival Call To Action Event in June in Washington, DC, is being co-convened by the governments of India and Ethiopia, alongside the U.S. government and UNICEF, to display the countries’ commitment to the effort, Shah said. “They are making a bold statement that they are putting child health at the top of their political agendas.”
Shah also said the issue is a national security imperative. For example, he said Afghanistan is seeing huge improvements in child survival rates and survival of child birth, which pave the way for national stability and will help bring U.S. troops home safely.
The panelists also debated how to draw more attention to these issues in times of economic decline and competing interests.
“Giving people a reason to invest in these causes beyond the good that we are doing is a key component of what this needs to be,” said panelist Michael McCurry, former White House press secretary for President Clinton and co-chair of the panel constructing the upcoming presidential debates. “This will not be an issue discussed [at the presidential debates] unless we hear people screaming about it from church basements. We need to get more organized and structured in the way we communicate our concerns.”