Child Survival Top Topic in Hill Briefing
By Jane Coaston | May 8, 2013
Global health and child survival experts gathered on Capitol Hill on Monday to share new information about child health and child and maternal mortality. “This is a story of great success, in many ways,” Dr. Joy Lawn, director of the Saving Newborn Lives program at Save the Children, said. Moderated by Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director Jennifer Kates, Ph.D. and featuring Save the Children, World Vision International, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the briefing focused on the health and survival of children around the world.
Dr. Laura Guay, vice president of research at EGPAF, has worked in the HIV/AIDS field for nearly three decades. In her remarks, she talked about working in Uganda in 1988 and returning this January, and the staggering differences in the availability and use of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. “It’s a completely different scenario,” she said. But she reiterated that until no child is born with HIV, the battle will continue. Currently, more than 900 children are infected with HIV, 330,000 children annually. “We know how to (prevent HIV in children),” Dr. Guay said, “We just need to figure out how to do it worldwide…we’ve made progress, but how do we get to those last 333,000 children?” She noted that care should begin with pregnant women – providing HIV testing and care and treatment services and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) tools. In addition, common childhood diseases like respiratory tract infections and diarrhea are particularly dangerous to children with weakened immune systems, like those living with HIV. Maternal and child health efforts are critical to preventing those deaths in settings that might have limited resources.
Dr. Guay pointed to Zimbabwe as a story of success in the fight to eliminate pediatric HIV. Despite the country’s political and financial troubles, the number of women with access to the services they need to prevent transmitting HIV to their babies has leapt from 17 percent in 2008 to 86 percent in 2010. Because of such programs as the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund, more countries are experiencing success in their fight to keep mothers and their babies happy, healthy, and HIV-free.
Forty-three percent of deaths in children under the age of five occur within the first few weeks of life, and 3 million babies die shortly after birth. Worldwide, 50 million babies are born at home, putting them at increased risk. But Dr. Lawn emphasized in her remarks that these problems have solutions. “We know why newborns die,” she said, and added that we have proof that interventions can make a real difference. Newborns are most vulnerable immediately before birth, during labor, and immediately following birth. But simple strategies – kangaroo mother care, obstetric care practices, and infection prevention methods – could save over half a million lives each year. Dr. Lawn said that over the last decade, 77 countries have used these and other tools to reduce newborn infant mortality by more than 25 percent. She emphasized that investing in healthcare workers and maternal and child health (MCH) were key to saving more lives. “We have the data, we have the tools, we have the potential – but will we act?” she said.Martha Newsome, global director of health, nutrition, and water and sanitation health (WASH) at World Vision International, focused her talk on the role of nutrition in saving the lives of babies and young children. Newsome spent fifteen years working in Mozambique and South Africa, and has seen first-hand the challenges caused by a lack of nutrition for children and families. Malnutrition kills millions of children every year –one in three deaths of children under the age of 5 is caused by undernutrition (2.3 million children annually). Undernutrition is also the greatest contributor to disease, and 165 million children worldwide show signs of stunting, which can lead to premature death. Newsome said that World Vision’s efforts to target malnutrition focused on three main areas: utilizing household and community-level leaders, including religious organizations, to educate women and families; empowering healthcare workers to respond to undernutrition, and using simple interventions, timed visits, and targeted messaging to fight malnutrition at every stage. In Ethiopia, where 47 percent of children under five are stunted due to malnutrition, World Vision has used these interventions to create a massive reduction in wasting and underweight children.
Dr. Lawn said after the event that in global health, “there is still all to play for and all to lose.” Though the global health community has made considerable gains, many challenges and obstacles lie ahead. Global health goals are shifting – from outcome-based (i.e. saving x number of children) efforts to improving systems and processes. But we’re closer than ever to ensuring that babies and children around the world have the opportunity to celebrate many happy birthdays.
Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C