Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a campaign April 23 to end preventable child death under the slogan “Every Child Deserves a Fifth Birthday.”
U.S. assistance to the developing world has long served the same goal through programs to improve child nutrition, maternal health, immunizations and related needs. The “Fifth Birthday” initiative will bring together the knowledge and experience of previous efforts to focus on a singular goal.
“For the first time, we have the tools and the knowledge to change child mortality,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah as he outlined the campaign to an audience at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a prominent nongovernmental organization working extensively on global health issues.
Those tools are compact and simple, and Shah offered a demonstration, pulling various articles from an average-sized backpack as he spoke: a high-nutrition sweet potato; a super-nutritious protein bar; medications to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of HIV/AIDS, diarrhea and dehydration; a vaccine kit and an insecticide-treated bed net to prevent bites from mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite.
This assortment of supplies costs about $30, Shah said. The difficult part is delivering these potentially life-saving articles to the isolated villages of the developing world where the greatest numbers of child deaths occur.
An estimated 7 million children die each year from preventable causes. Six million of them are lost to parents in the developing world, “a massive inequity” between the developed and the developing world, Shah said.
Supply chains to deliver these low-cost remedies for preventable disease to the areas are not reliable, if they exist at all, Shah said. The United States, other donors and organizations committed to the survival of children should adopt several new tactics to address that goal.
Every Child Deserves a Fifth Birthday will take greater care to articulate the goal, Shah said, to identify the regions where the need is greatest and governments also demonstrate their support for the goal.
The new campaign will adopt a “crystal clear road map for action,” Shah said, which specifies what must be delivered to a given community to save young lives and what all the partners involved must bring to the effort.
Supporters of the campaign will identify how progress and success of the endeavor are to be measured.
Agencies involved in child-survival programs in the past have met what Shah called “core bottlenecks” in their efforts to deliver the backpack items to certain regions. Agencies must “take the commodity challenges seriously,” Shah said, to improve the flow of these health supplies to the children who may not survive without them.
Information technologies are a key tool in the effort, Shah said. Technological devices that have become routine in the developed world can be genuine game-changers in a developing world situation. A mobile phone or an electronic reading device put to use in a rural clinic can significantly increase the capabilities of the facility, Shah said, as it establishes a communication line with knowledge centers that can provide advice to solve a village health problem.
USAID is taking up this new health goal when cuts in government budgets and U.S. foreign assistance programs loom in the not-too-distant future. Shah said the United States is spending about $2.5 billion annually on a variety of children’s health and nutrition programs, and the Fifth Birthday campaign requires that greater value be squeezed from that investment.
“Efforts in this field that save money save children’s lives,” Shah said, inviting new ideas for greater efficiency in global health activities.
The religious and philanthropic organizations working to improve global health frequently come to the cause with a belief in a moral imperative and an ethical obligation to reduce suffering and help the poor. Shah reminded his audience that these activities serve another end: They are the basis of a sound economic and national security strategy.
The more children survive early childhood to be educated and raised to become productive and contributing citizens of their country, the greater the stability of that country. Greater still is a country’s opportunity to become a member of the world community and a participant in the global economy, Shah said, echoing remarks made in the past by both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The big enabler will be the countries themselves,” said USAID Assistant Administrator Ariel Pablos-Méndez. Also speaking at the Kaiser Foundation event, Méndez said many developing-world countries are in periods of economic expansion, allowing them to increase their national investments in better public health programs like never before.
A broad coalition of partners including U.N. agencies and other nongovernmental organizations are also supporting the campaign. The governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia, collaborating with UNICEF, will hold a Child Survival Call to Action meeting in Washington in June to mobilize resources and actions in the campaign.
More information about the campaign is available at 5thBDay.usaid.gov.