Advertisement
Opinion

An investment in fighting infectious disease will save millions of lives

Americans are generous people. To see our generosity, one need only look at the outpouring of aid in response to natural disasters. From the earthquake in Haiti to flooding in Tennessee to the Gulf Coast oil spill, when Americans see people in need, they don't hesitate to help.

Working in global health, we often witness human tragedy on an overwhelming scale. Yet because the burden of infectious disease is constant rather than the result of one terrible event, the scope of the problem evades the front-page headlines and the public consciousness. That's beginning to change — and lives are being saved because of it — but we're not yet doing all that we can or should.

Advertisement

The harsh reality is that each year, despite recent gains, nearly 9 million children don't make it to their fifth birthday, simply by virtue of their birthplace. Forty-one percent of them die within their first month of life. Together, pneumonia and diarrhea alone kill nearly 3 million children each year. Malaria takes another 700,000 plus young lives. All three of these killer infections are preventable, treatable and require urgent attention.

As the world's most powerful heads of state convene at the G8 summit that wraps up today in Canada, we can think of no higher priority in a time of economic recovery than proven investments in the future of the world's children. Sitting in presidency of the G8, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has championed a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions in the form of cleaner water, improved nutrition, health worker training and child immunization. Canada has offered up $1 billion to fund the effort and is urging G8 countries, foundations and others to follow suit. The United Kingdom has offered up $1.5 billion, and the United States has shown its generosity once again, committing double that sum. But global problems require global solutions, and still Japan, Germany and Italy have yet to commit to the initiative.

Advertisement

Nets that save lives; vaccines that prevent illness; nutrition that bolsters health and development; and medicines that effectively treat infections all exist right now but are not reaching the children who desperately need them. What's the obstacle? A lack of political will and sustained funding required for delivering these life-saving tools to all the children who need them. This is where the G8 can make a critical difference.

The Global Consensus on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, adopted in 2009 by a broad range of governments, relief organizations and international health agencies, estimates that an additional $30 billion is needed between now and 2015 to accelerate progress on the goals of achieving a two-thirds reduction in child mortality and a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality. The World Health Organization estimates that this investment would prevent up to 1 million deaths of women due to pregnancy and childbirth and save the lives of 11 million children. A staggering return on investment.

The G8 is currently $18 billion short on its commitments to alleviate poverty in developing countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The people of Japan, Germany and Italy love children as much as any people anywhere. They should ask their governments to make good on the G8 commitments by meeting or exceeding Canada's pledge.

Working together, our collective generosity can have an even bigger impact on children worldwide than it has had in response to natural disasters. We can start by urging world leaders to combat the deadly diseases we have the power to prevent. In doing so, their efforts will save millions of lives and bolster the long-term economic security of developing countries — which in the long run contributes to greater global security for all of us. Investing in child survival is a smart investment with a moral imperative — and the G8 should commit fully to it.

Dr. Orin Levine is executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His e-mail is olevine@jhsph.edu. Robert W. Radtke is president of Episcopal Relief & Development. His e-mail is rradtke@er-d.org.



Advertisement