For the past week, the world’s gaze has been fixed on the heinous massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, which claimed the lives of 20 young students and six adults.
For families, nations and the world, children are the future; they represent all that is yet to come. Children are meant not only to survive, but to thrive. Their loss sends us searching for answers, and angers us into action. And so it only seems appropriate to turn our gazes to children all around the world, and how we can best help them in the year ahead.
Children in developing countries of the world — 19,000 to be precise — die every day from causes that are preventable, and as a study put forth by the Canadian Medical Association shows, making knowledge available and accessible is the key to effective health promotion and illness prevention.
UNICEF, with the help of Meltwater News, has done just that, surveying Canada's major media outlets to determine which child survival issues received the least profile this year. Their report describes these threats to survival, while at the same time injecting a dose of optimism by exploring what can be done to prevent them.
"These 19,000 children [who die each day] do not include the thousands of children who die in conflict, natural disasters or other humanitarian emergencies every year. Quite simply these are children who don't survive due to sickness, poor nutrition or injury," UNICEF's reporters Meg French, Melanie Sharpe and Tara Moayed wrote.
It is often said that the true measure of a nation's standing is how well it attends to its children. Studies have shown that measures of child survival are strong indicators of a country’s well being, as they reflect social, economic and environmental conditions in which children (and others in society) live.
Amongst the leading causes of death documented in the report are child drowning, tetanus and meningitis – survival risks for which clear solutions exist.
What are the other underreported causes of children’s deaths? What can we do to help? Click through the slideshow to find out.
According to the UNICEF report, meningitis endangers the lives of 450 million people in 26 countries, stretching across the African continent from Senegal to Ethiopia.The worst recent epidemic killed 250,000 people in the region and left 50,000 permanently disabled. But MenAfriVac — the first vaccine developed specifically for Africa — hopes to give more than 112 million people the protection they need.
In the town of Matlab, Bangladesh, 50 per cent of all child deaths between the ages of one and four occur from drowning. According to the report, every day 46 children drown in Bangladesh, while Asia is home to 95 per cent of all children who drown worldwide. The solution to this silent emergency? Teaching children water safety. UNICEF implemented a water safety program in Bangladesh in 2009 and drowning rates among those who have gone through the program are 90 per cent lower than those who have not. The need to teach children how to swim in Asia is still dire — reaching more children will save young lives.
3. Preterm Births
According to the report, babies of child brides are at a much higher risk of illness and death due to being born preterm. "These babies are 60 per cent more likely to die before their first birthday compared with babies born to adults," wrote the writers of the report. We face a health challenge in caring for preterm newborns for which we must adopt a global solution.
The UNICEF report emphasizes that malaria kills 600,000 people every year, and mostly children under five. Furthermore, this problem is only increasing due to damaging effects of climate change on the planet. Malaria is a costly disease with those living in poverty suffering the most.
The UNICEF report reported that undernutrition contributes to more than one-third of child deaths every year on a global scale. Those who are fortunate enough to survive must often deal with irreversible physical and mental damage. The solutions to undernutrition are simple: breastfeeding and nutrient supplementation. By helping out with child feeding services or providing resources to trained health workers who treat malnourished children, we can all help minimize chronic malnutrition.
UNICEF reported that 160 newborns die from tetanus. While this disease has virtually disappeared in Canada and other industrialized countries, there is still much to do. Now, a global effort is underway to eliminate tetanus. A global service group called <a href="http://sites.kiwanis.org/Kiwanis/en/theELIMINATEproject/home.aspx">Kiwanis</a> are working to raise $110 million by 2015 in order to bring vaccines to the 31 countries that have yet to eliminate this agonizing disease.
More than 530,00 children contract HIV every year, most from their mothers, and only half of the babies born to mothers living with the virus receive the medicine needed to prevent them from contracting the disease. When <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2012/11/30/bill-c-398-generic-aids-drugs-defeated/">Bill C-398</a> failed to pass, which would have given Canada access to low-cost medicine to help those living with HIV/AIDS, progress was severely stunted. Improving access to this life-saving medicine is critical in combatting the HIV epidemic.
8. Birth Asphyxia
Birth asphyxia occurs when a baby doesn't recieve enough oxygen before, during or just after birth. According to the UNICEF report, birth asphyxia accounts for nearly half of all newborn deaths that occur in the first 24 hours of life worldwide. <a href="http://www.everywomaneverychild.org/resources/un-commission-on-life-saving-commodities">The UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children developed an action plan with 13 essential items that are working to prevent this terrible problem.</a>
According to the report, there are approximately 700,000 diarrhoeal deaths amongst children under five each year. We are, however, being given new solutions: <a href="http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx">The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation</a> recently announced the winner of its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, an endeavour that rallied groups to invent a toilet that did not require water, a sewage system or electricity. More global efforts to improve sanitation are necessary to protect children from diarrhea.
Across the globe, pneumonia kills more children than any other disease (13 million children die from it every year). However, the battle in fighting pneumonia is far from over. In April, Ghana was the first African country to introduce vaccines that simultaneously fight diarrhea and pneumonia. Other African countries have since decided to follow Ghana's lead and are adopting the vaccines.The vaccines use a cold chain refrigeration system and have proven to be extremely successful.
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