This piece was originally written for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Blog.
We stand on the shoulders of some amazing female pioneers from the early 20th century. We honor them by carrying on their work, which in this day and age means making the case for supporting foreign aid and improving the health and lives of poor women and children around the world.
But I have to tell you that if I could pick any year to celebrate, I’d choose a different one. A lingering economic crisis and a painful budget debate are not the ideal backdrop for marking this historic occasion. Many of the programs on which poor women and children depend for their survival are at risk of losing support in the halls of government.
But the thing that gives me hope is our story. As advocates for women’s and children’s health, we have an amazing story to tell. In 1960, the number of children who died before their fifth birthday was 20 million. Then, the number went down. By 1975, it was 15 million. Then the number went down again, to 12 million, then 10 million. Last year, 8.1 million. There has never been a story of valuing human life like these revolutionary years of child survival.
We cut child mortality in half in 50 years, thanks to increasing women’s access to family planning services, improving care for newborns, developing and delivering new vaccines, improving nutrition, and training more frontline workers who deliver these solutions. If properly trained and equipped, these health care workers who are already in communities every day can save millions of lives.
Today our story continues. We now have new vaccines that combat the two biggest killers of children, pneumonia and diarrhea. We are learning how to save newborn lives and to deliver these simple tools and messages. And we are innovating.
Just this morning, I joined U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Administrator Raj Shah to launch the Grand Challenges for Development for Maternal and Child Health. In this partnership, we’re working with USAID, theWorld Bank, Grand Challenges Canada and the Government of Norway to invest in – and advocate for – innovations that have the potential to save millions more lives of women and newborns.
Donors and governments need to hear this remarkable story of aid. They need to know that they have already been part of a movement to save millions upon millions of children. They need to know that there are proven and simple ways to save millions more. We know we can save the lives of mothers and babies. The question is, will we?
So go. Tell our story. Make people hear it. Because we have an amazing story to tell.
> Learn more about Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge in Development
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