I was too young to go to the new baby's funeral, but I watched from across the field that joined our backyards, waiting for my aunt and uncle to return. When I saw their car pull into the yard, I ran across the field to greet my aunt. Her eyes were red and she looked very tired. She told me about the funeral, that the tiny coffin was white and that her brother-in-law, a man I called Uncle Ben, had carried it to the gravesite himself. The baby boy had lived only a few days. At that point in my life, I had not realized that new babies die. I saw his grieving parents many days later, and even as young as I was, I knew that these two people would carry this sadness for the rest of their lives.
Memories of that day in my young life flooded back when I attended the two-day Child Survival Call to Action organized by USAID and UNICEF in mid-June. An estimated seven hundred people from around the world traveled to the event in Washington, D.C., all embracing the theme that every child deserves to have a 5th birthday, no matter where on this planet she or he is born.
The statistics are overwhelming. The World Health Organization reports that in 2010, an estimated 3.1 million babies died during their first month of life. My recurring question is this: how can it be possible that so many years since that newborn died in my hometown, 3.1 MILLION babies around the world still do not survive their first month? We must do much, much more to ensure that infants survive.
Over the course of the two-day Child Survival Call to Action many leaders spoke on behalf of organizations and governments committed to improving child survival. For me, the voice that broke through was that of Dr. Joy Lawn who represented Save the Children on a panel called “Ending Preventable Child Deaths within the Continuum of Care.”
In her speech that day, Dr. Lawn was passionate in her advocacy for newborn and maternal survival. Explaining that she was born in the bush in Uganda, Dr. Lawn said, “I survived because people shouted for me and they believed that I didn’t have to die and my mother didn’t need to die.”
I believe that we all have a responsibility to shout for newborns, for the soon-to-be-born, and for their mothers who so often are at risk of dying or suffering serious injury in trying to bring a new life into the world. I am grateful to work at a healthcare company who partners with many organizations in the fight for maternal, newborn and child survival. These well-respected partners include Save the Children, UNICEF, mothers2mothers International, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, USAID and the Fistula Foundation. We celebrate these partnerships and those with other community-based organizations that strive to save and improve lives.
September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Most infant deaths are preventable and organizations around the world are making a difference through their efforts to increase the number of front line community health workers and skilled birth attendants, provide basic training to address birth asphyxia, engage mothers in the community to support new mothers, and deliver critical stage-based health information to new and expecting moms via mobile phones.
I urge us to proclaim September “Infant SURVIVAL Month” and to do all that we can to increase survival rates, especially in areas where the need is the greatest. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that every child lives to celebrate her fifth birthday, and that her mother and the rest of her family survive and thrive.
I pledge to do my part and invite you to shout with me. To take action, visit the partners' web sites above, explore opportunities, and get involved.