Today was an emotional day. One that every American mother envisions in her head on the day her child is born: My daughter’s first day of kindergarten.
Like most middle-class American mothers, I spent the last five years grooming my child for this very day. My daughter received regular visits and vaccinations at a trusted pediatrician. She thrived on a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. She participated in early childhood education through a variety of fantastic preschools and learning centers. She met friends, learned her ABC’s, learned to dance, to read, to smile and to be free. And today, all those years of grooming and taking care of her paid off. Sophia successfully, jubilantly entered her classroom, ready and eager to learn.
For many American mothers, reaching a child’s fifth year of life and experiencing the quintessinal milestone of entering kindergarten is a highly anticipated and exciting event. It is expected and often taken for granted. Many American mothers do not know that over 7 million children around the world will never ever have the opportunity and the luxury of reaching this critical milestone of life.
The world has made dramatic progress in saving the lives of children from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and polio when focused, steady commitment has been backed by sufficient funds. Over the last 50 years alone, child mortality from preventable “killer” deaths have been reduced by 70 percent worldwide, an astounding success.
However, the fact that over 7 million children worldwide still die from easily preventable deaths is unacceptable. The poorest children on the planet still do not have access to life-saving services such as clean drinking water, vaccines, antibiotics, and sanitary birth conditions.
In the case of vaccines alone, one in five children in developing countries do not have access to the vaccines they need to survive. What is even more tragic is the fact that over a third of all childhood deaths under age five are due to pneumonia and diarrhea, two diseases we have affordable and effective vaccines for yet currently do not reach the children who need them most. Campaigns like the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life is working endlessly to solve this inequity.
Malaria, another killer disease that brings endless suffering and dying across many poor regions of the world is also being attacked by the distribution of hundreds of millions of insecticide-treated bed nets and other relatively low-cost measures. Malaria, which accounts for 9% of all deaths in children under age five, has been cut in half in over 11 African countries alone.
We have made much progress over the years but not enough. No child should die from a preventable death. Every child should have the opportunity to reach their fifth birthday and join the millions of children around the world in the start of school.
What really hit close to home to me today, on my daughter’s first day of kindergarten was this reality: The number of children dying every year from preventable diseases in developing countries is nearly equivalent to half the children entering kindergarten in the U.S. This is a complete tragedy that only we have the power to solve. Until we come together and start caring about the fifth child, nothing will change. Now is the time. Speak out to your Members of Congress about Child Survival. Write a blog post. Share this post. Spread the word and save a child’s life. Let’s give all the world’s children the opportunity to reach the milestone my daughter reached today.