I recently brought my six-month old twin boys into our pediatrician’s office to receive their scheduled immunizations. As the nurse administered the vaccinations, my anxiety over their momentary pain from the injections was soon replaced with gratitude. My twins – through no merit of their own but through an accident of where they were born – are privileged enough to have access to life-saving immunizations.

While this access is not something that all mothers around the world can take for granted, vaccines and other global health strides have prevented children’s deaths at a rate unprecedented in history.                             

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We are often inundated with catastrophic stories and images of disease outbreaks, making it difficult to believe there could be any good news in the area of global health. Yet there is good news: Child mortality has been halved – halved! – since 1990.

The world came together to make this happen, in part through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a galvanizing framework that improved health and development worldwide. 

When it comes to global health, setting global goals is crucial. But reporting on the good results has often been neglected.

Consider the success of the Goal designed to “Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.” In the past 15 years, an estimated 6.2 million malarial deaths have been averted, primarily of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa. Anti-retroviral therapy prevented 7.6 million deaths from HIV/AIDS between 1995 and 2013.

As impressive but rarely noted (even within the MDG reporting system) are the steady reductions in unspecified “other diseases” across the world.  Even for sleep-short mothers of twins, these numbers should cause eyes to widen:

--Measles deaths decreased by 80 percent between 2000 and 2014, dropping from 547,000 to 115,000.
--Pneumonia deaths of children fell 47 percent from the turn of the century, dropping to 922,000 deaths in 2015
--Diarrheal diseases (still one of the chief killers of children under five) took half as many children’s lives in 2013 as in 1990
--Pertussis (whooping cough) cases declined 40 percent since 2000
--Tuberculosis fell by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013

Even though measles vaccinations saved 17 million lives worldwide since 2000 and whooping cough declined in large part because four out of every five children globally now receives the required pertussis vaccinations, not reporting good news in global health can be a devastating problem. Here is why. We cannot become complacent and lose momentum; and we cannot afford to take proven health interventions for granted.

This year six million children will still die before reaching their fifth birthday, mainly from preventable diseases and illnesses. Governments, multilateral agencies and private organizations need to increase support for vaccinations and other effective investments such as mosquito bed nets, clean water and toilets, quality care at birth, better nutrition, and strengthened health systems.

Publicizing the reduction of the world’s greatest killers of children underscores the value for every country to continue to strengthen health systems. Much remains to be done. Many infectious diseases, like Ebola, know no borders.

Targeting one disease often brings collateral benefits for combating others. Polio is nearly eradicated. Ten million children were not crippled during the past quarter century because the world committed to tackling this disease. Distributing the polio vaccine catalyzed the start of structures dedicated to distributing a range of medications and health care.

Few better investments exist than those on behalf of global health. Diseases have been rolled back on every continent. Lives of children have been spared at an historic rate. But we need to make healthcare discrepancies smaller, so that even more mothers around the world can have access to life-saving interventions for their children. What’s needed now are redoubled efforts.

Neal is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in primary health care. She lives in Boston with her husband and infant twin boys.