BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

June 21, 2012

Answering an Important Call to Save Children’s Lives

Senior Director, Policy and Advocacy
PATH

Rachel Wilson is the senior director of policy and advocacy at PATH, a GHTC member. She wrote this guest post in reaction to last week’s conference on child health in Washington, DC.

The Child Survival Call to Action that took place last week in Washington, DC, was a unique opportunity for 700 stakeholders working in the government, the private sector, faith-based organizations, and civil society to come together to kick off a long-term, focused effort to save children's lives. While the goal of the Call to Action— to decrease annual preventable childhood deaths to two million by 2035—may seem daunting, we ought to remind ourselves that we already have many of the tools at our disposal to achieve success. Existing health commodities like oral rehydration solution and zinc effectively treat life-threatening dehydration caused by severe diarrhea, one of the leading killers of kids. Insecticide-treated bednets can prevent malaria—another deadly disease for children—and help save half a million lives per year. Solutions like these are simple and affordable, and ought to be expanded so that all children, no matter where they live, can access them.

However, to fully answer the call to end preventable child deaths, we also need to determine where there are gaps or where alternatives may need to be added to the portfolio of solutions that are currently available. So, in addition to ensuring access to current interventions, new tools are needed to address the leading killers of kids. To that end, PATH is working in partnership with private-sector partners to develop vaccines to prevent diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria and better diagnostics to detect diarrhea and malaria. Finally, we are working with our new drug development affiliate OneWorld Health on new formulations for oral rehydration salts and new malaria drugs to treat diarrhea and malaria, respectively.

In a similar vein, it is imperative that we invest in innovations that enable us to deliver products—like vaccines—in a safe and cost-effective way. PATH is developing an innovative technique to fully immunize children using less vaccine—a cutting-edge way of spending less money to save more lives. Our new president and CEO, Steve Davis, spoke on a panel around innovation on the second day of the conference where he discussed how collaboration, which the Call to Action exemplifies, is an essential element of innovation.

The US Government has been an incredible champion of innovation over the years. According to a recent report put out by the Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures, the United States is the world’s leader in investments in global health research and development, which have led to some game-changing innovations. These discoveries have contributed to the remarkable progress in the area of child survival. In the last 50 years, child deaths have dropped by 70 percent worldwide, and in the past two decades alone, child deaths have plummeted from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. This rapid progress is largely due to high-impact solutions, notably new and low-cost vaccines and improved health services. However, without US ingenuity and the foresight to invest in the science that gave rise to these solutions, these gains would have been far less dramatic.

The goal of the Call to Action ought to be commended. We have the simple solutions available today to make that happen. And we can save even more lives if we also focus on the health tools and technologies on the horizon.

Let’s be sure to answer the call.

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