Every child deserves a fifth birthday

In the bipartisan tradition on global health and development, President Obama has continued investing in global health to save lives and strengthen communities. He, and Secretary Clinton, have called for an AIDS-free generation, using scientific advances of the past few years to expand on the HIV-free generation of the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration also continues to expand and evolve the conceptual framework to increase the return on investment the US taxpayers make for a healthier, more secure world.

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Today another chapter is being written. The U.S. Government is catalyzing governments and partners around the world to end preventable child deaths. This is not a new initiative, but one that capitalizes on U.S. leadership in child health and a global narrative that is very promising. In 1990, more than 10 million children under 5 died every year. In 2010, 7.6 million died. That’s significant progress that has accelerated every decade. But we are far from done.  It is totally unacceptable that more than 7 million kids are still dying each year from easily preventable and treatable conditions.   

Children under five are dying because too many still lack adequate nutrition, access to a bed net to protect them from malaria or inexpensive medication to treat them if the get it, access to routine immunization and because their moms are dying unnecessarily – leaving them to be up to 10 times more likely to die. Not enough HIV-positive mothers have access to treatment to avoid transmitting HIV to their babies and to keeping themselves healthy.  

The solutions are simple – and they are low cost and highly efficient. Preventing these deaths is achievable, is a good investment and is a moral requirement.

At a “Call to Action” in June, the governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia, together with UNICEF, are mobilizing the world. The message is that all governments and citizens are responsible for the health of the world’s children. Global leaders will agree on sharpened country strategies and targeted investments in lifesaving interventions over the next two decades. The goal is to mobilize political will, generating consensus for action that transparently holds the world to account.

To complement this effort, today the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Administrator, Dr. Raj Shah, launched an awareness-raising campaign called “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday”.  Everyone can engage in this important effort by sharing their fifth birthday or Age 5 photo at www.5thBDay.usaid.gov and through social media.  The goal is to remind us all that it is our responsibility to end the needless death of millions of children – and that working together, the end of preventable child death is in sight.

It’s out of the box thinking that you don’t normally see from government.  There are already 40 partners signed on including many faith-based organizations. Before even getting to June’s Call to Action, the child health community is rallying to engage citizens in innovative ways to create a movement that will save millions of lives. 

One thing every American can agree on is this:  every child deserves a fifth birthday.


Ambassador Mark Dybul is a distinguished scholar at the O’Neill Institute for Global and National Health Law, a Georgetown University and Inaugural Global Health Fellow, The George W. Bush Institute.  He was the US Global AIDS Coordinator from 2006 to 2009.

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