Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Visualizing Saving Lives

August 28, 2012

How would you finish this sentence?  “I’m alive and well today because….. “ 

If you’re like me, you’d have a tough time singling out one thing. (OK, maybe you could single out one thing but remember the “well” in the sentence.) Maybe you’d make a list. 

It’s essentially what the Lives Saved Tool (LiST) does, which is the basis for this exceptional data visualization  in the Guardian today, of some powerful child mortality figures: create a list of exactly what’s keeping children in the poorest countries of the world alive and what’s causing them to die before the age of five years old. 

Created by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health this tool (which is an amazing software program, basically) uses evidence-based information to figure out how effective a variety of different factors are at saving the lives of children under five years old. For example, if you want to know whether, in your region of the world, it will be more effective to focus on distributing bed nets to combat malaria and increasing access to vaccines for Hepatitis B, in order to reduce the number of deaths of young children, this tool helps to figure that out. 

Today, UNICEF estimates that over 7 million children die each year from preventable causes before they reach their fifth birthday.  It’s a sad figure but one that has the potential to inspire as the Guardian visualization illustrates. When you look at how much that number has dropped in the last fifty years, and just how many lives have been saved  -- thanks to simple but powerful interventions like exclusive breastfeeding, Vitamin A supplements to help with malnutrition, vaccines, and tools to combat diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria—you realize how far we’ve come.

The data may be complex but the idea behind it isn’t, particularly when it’s well illustrated. It’s pretty simple, actually. We can do better. The Guardian and other media organizations are increasingly helping the public understand and explore complex data which too often sits on the desks and desktops of experts.  They’ve created this compelling data visualization which we hope you’ll find not only fascinating but helpful in grasping what’s going on in countries around the world struggling to save the lives of children under five years old.

Once you’ve checked it out, share it with others as well.  See how they might finish the sentence, “I’m alive and well today because…”

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