Child Survival Editorial Packet

May 19, 2008

Saving children’s lives: A gift for mothers the world over

May 2008 — As Americans prepare to honor mothers throughout our nation on Mother’s Day, it’s a blessing to know that most will never have to endure the unbearable pain of losing a child.

Thanks to modern public health interventions that most of us take for granted — clean drinking water, vaccinations, sanitary birth conditions, antibiotics — diseases and infections that claimed so many young lives a century ago are no longer a concern for the great majority in this country.

For mothers in the world’s poorest nations, however, losing a child is an all too common occurrence. Each day, nearly 27,000 children die mostly from preventable disease and malnutrition.

Several members of our U.S. Congress want to change that, and they’ve prepared a most appropriate gift for mothers throughout the world. It’s called the U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival Act of 2007. This legislation, introduced by Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN), David Reichert (R-WA) and others, would authorize $600 million in 2008 — increasing steadily through 2012 — to help reduce child deaths by two-thirds and maternal deaths by three-quarters by the year 2015. Reaching these targets would fulfill two of the Millennium Development Goals that the U.S. and other nations promised to achieve at the start of this century.

Previous investments in child survival have attained remarkable results. For example, as the U.S. increased assistance for vaccinations against the major child killers including measles in the 1980s and 1990s, immunization rates rose dramatically. The result: child deaths from measles plummeted from 3 million a year to half a million, where it stands today.

Encouraging as the progress against child deaths has been, much work remains unfinished. There is no reason for half a million children to continue dying each year from measles when the cost of immunizing a child is less than $1. Thirty thousand mothers and 180,000 newborns a year could be saved if all pregnant women were vaccinated against tetanus at a cost of just $1.20 each.

Another common, yet preventable, cause of child death is dehydration from diarrhea. In the United States, we usually think of diarrhea as little more than a nuisance. But in developing countries, particularly where malnutrition and disease act in life-threatening synergy, diarrhea becomes a killer, taking some two million lives a year. It is inexcusable that so many should perish when the treatment to prevent these deaths, Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT), is a mere 33 cents per child.

All in all, there are 20 affordable interventions each costing less than $25 per child that could save 6 million children a year. Other life-saving measures include:

  • Vitamin A supplementation. A 2-cent capsule given two to three times a year prevents blindness and death. Only half the young children in poor countries receive this treatment. An additional half million children could be saved if all had access to this nutritional supplement.
  • Anti-malarial drugs. These cost less than 50 cents per treatment. Combined with increased use of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent transmission, more than a million malaria deaths could be prevented each year.
  • Essential newborn care. A combination of safe practices and treatment could save 3 million babies a year. These measures include immunizing mothers against tetanus, ensuring clean delivery conditions, drying and wrapping a baby immediately after birth, promoting breastfeeding and immunization, and treating infections with antibiotics.

The Need for Community-Based Care

Not only must these essential services be made available to mothers in the developing world, they must be accessible. In some rural areas, it can take days to reach the nearest clinic to treat a child, even if the child suffers from what we in the developed world would consider a minor ailment. The Child Survival Act, if passed, would provide badly-needed resources to train community-based health workers so they could provide basic health care within their towns and villages.

The following story from UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2008 report illustrates how community-based health care in a small village in Niger can make a huge difference:

Today, Roukaya Bara and her six-month-old baby girl, Rouzeina, are on their way home from the Dama community health post. Bara gives voice to the positive impact that the health post has had on the survival of young children. “During the night, my daughter was ill. She had diarrhea and did not breastfeed for two days. I was very worried, because she started to be listless and completely dehydrated. But, look at her now. This morning I took her to the health post, and they gave her an oral rehydration solution that brought her back to life. Just four years ago, I had to walk more than two hours to reach the nearest health center. I would only go as a last resort. Now I can make sure my children are cared for quickly.”

A Call to Action

The Global Child Survival Act would:

  • Authorize increased funding to expand child and maternal health interventions, including $600 million in FY 2008, $900 million for FY 2009, $1.2 billion for FY 2010, and $1.6 billion for FY 2011 and 2012.
  • Continue investments in proven, cost-effect international child and maternal health programs, including UNICEF and the Global Vaccines Initiative (a public-private partnership to deliver immunizations to children most in need).
  • Require the U.S. government to develop an integrated strategy for supporting the improvement of child and maternal health.
  • Create a U.S. government inter-agency Child and Maternal Health Task Force to coordinate activities directed toward achieving maternal and child health goals.
  • Set out guidelines for child survival programs, including building local capacity and self-sufficiency, partnerships with non-governmental organizations, participation by local communities, and coordination with other donors.
  • Require the president to submit an annual report to Congress detailing U.S. efforts to promote child and maternal health and survival globally and reporting on progress on child morbidity and mortality rates to date.
  • Authorize the expansion of the Child Survival and Health Grants Program created by Congress to help further American commitment to improving the health and survival of children, newborns and mothers.

No mother, anywhere in the world, should have to lose a child. It is a burden members of Congress have the power to lift from millions this Mother’s Day by becoming cosponsors of the U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival Act of 2007 and expanding funding in the 2008 foreign aid spending bill for child survival efforts.

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