USAID: Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday

A young Afghan girl plays on swings near the Kart-e-sakhi shrine in Kabul on April 10, 2012.

Alex Palacios is the GAVI Special Representative in Washington. He is responsible for coordination between GAVI and the U. S. Government, non-government organizations, foundations and other entities. Prior to his position at the GAVI Alliance, he was Chief of the International and Corporate Alliances Section at UNICEF and writes for GlobalPost as a Guest Blogger. 

Fathers and mothers in the wealthier world don’t question whether their child is going to reach his or her fifth birthday. Fathers and mothers in developing countries should expect no less.

The US Agency for International Development today kicks off a campaign called “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday.” It’s designed to highlight the terrible reality that more than 7.6 million children die annually from preventable disease and malnutrition before they reach this milestone.

This campaign is part of the Child Survival Call to Action, a global gathering USAID will host in June to galvanize efforts to reduce the number of children dying needlessly around the world.

The meeting comes at a time of great hope, and one of the reasons for hope is history.

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Thirty years ago, in the midst of a global recession, UNICEF’s Jim Grant launched the Child Survival and Development Revolution. At that time, an estimated 12-13 million children died every year largely from preventable illnesses and malnutrition. It was, Grant advised, an ongoing “silent emergency.”

Grant and others persuaded political leaders in rich and poor countries that they could help save millions of lives by prioritizing support for basic, high-impact interventions, including childhood vaccines. That campaign helped bring child immunization to the top of the global development agenda. Within 10 years, increased immunization coverage in even the poorest countries led to a steady reduction in the number of deaths. Today, we have roughly cut in half the child death rates seen 30 years ago.

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A second reason for hope is recent success. Over the last 12 years, the GAVI Alliance, along with multiple partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. government and scores of developing countries, has launched another revolution to increase access to immunization and vaccines in the poorest countries. Thirty years ago, for instance, when a new vaccine was introduced in the developed world, it often took 15 years or more for that vaccine to reach the developing world. Now the wait may be as short as a year or two. In addition, 30 years ago, not all key players were engaged in the effort as they are today.

These developments have inspired a new big idea: ending preventable childhood deaths in a generation. That is truly revolutionary.

But in fact, the revolution has already been unfolding bit by bit, country by country, over the last decade. Its pace is actually increasing. For instance, Haiti will shortly launch the pentavalent vaccine, which protects children against five diseases. This week, Ghana will simultaneously launch pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which protect against two of the biggest killers of children.

We have many reasons to be optimistic that millions more children will not only reach their fifth birthday, but will thrive well beyond.

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