The Health Issue That Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, And Rick Santorum All Agree On

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"The Health Issue That Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, And Rick Santorum All Agree On"

Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and Rick Santorum as five year olds

Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and Rick Santorum as five year olds

CREDIT: 5th Birthday And Beyond

Every child deserves the medical resources to make it to their fifth birthday. That’s the simple ethos behind the 5th Birthday and Beyond Coalition, a group of nonprofit and business partners who are traveling to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to highlight the ongoing efforts to eliminate preventable child deaths around the world.

Over the past 25 years, the number of children dying before the age of five has plummeted, according to the most recent data from UNICEF. Compared to the death rates from 1990, six million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday this year.

To celebrate that milestone and keep public attention on this issue, the coalition is collecting photos from public figures when they were five years old. Former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton, former president hopeful Rick Santorum, former president George W. Bush, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) all sent in their childhood photos. Other supporters who want to participate are encouraged to change their Facebook profile pictures to a photo of their five year old selves.

“We’ve gone from 12.6 million children under the age of five dying every year to where we are today, at 6.6 million. It’s an extraordinary success,” Amie Batson, the chief strategy officer at PATH, an international global health nonprofit that’s participating in 5th Birthday and Beyond, explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. “But it continues to be a very big challenge that we can do so much more to address. How do we do even more to make sure that every child lives to celebrate their fifth birthday?”

Often, accomplishing that goal involves some very simple efforts to safeguard women’s and babies’ lives. Ensuring that women are getting proper nutrition and medical attention during their pregnancies and births can go a long way — an estimated 800 women die in childbirth every single day, and three million babies die within their first four weeks of life because they lack access to health services. Young children are frequently dying from preventable illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.

Something as simple as developing vaccines that can handle being subjected to harsh heat can help expand kids’ access to medical services in impoverished places without electricity or refrigeration, Batson pointed out. Making sure all children have clean water and proper sanitation systems could prevent almost 2,000 child deaths each year. And giving mothers the support and training they need to breastfeed their infants makes their children six times more likely to survive.

The advocates participating in the 5th Birthday and Beyond Coalition point out that the United States has played a leading role in pushing for these simple health interventions. “No country contributes more to global health than the U.S., or dedicates a greater percentage of its foreign assistance to health,” the coalition notes. Global health spending is one of the few federal budget items with broad bipartisan support, and they’re urging Congress to continue making it a priority.

“We want every dollar to go into the smartest interventions that will have the highest impact,” Batson said. “Now, we’re moving from trying to decrease preventable deaths to trying to stop them altogether. Let’s end preventable maternal and child deaths! It’s a really exciting, bold, and doable goal — in the next 15 to 20 years, this is something we can achieve.”

The international community is making some steps toward that goal. On Wednesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is set to announce that it’s allocating $2.9 billion of its resources to focus on saving children from preventable deaths, hoping to prevent up to half a million deaths by 2015. On top of that, USAID is also awarding more than $600 million in new grants to partner organizations working on issues of global health, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, and pediatric associations in developing nations.

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