November 25, 2013 |

Turn awareness into action

Group of eight young children standing near an open door.
What if we used commemorations such as World Pneumonia Day and World Toilet Day to take action for children? Photo: PATH/Lesley Reed.

Guest contributor Erin Fry Sosne is PATH’s government affairs officer for child health, advocacy, and public policy.

November is a busy time for child health. The month hosts major worldwide awareness days focused on some of the biggest threats to children’s health, including World Pneumonia Day (the number one killer of young children), World Prematurity Day (a leading cause of child death), and World Toilet Day (which emphasizes diarrhea, a leading cause of preventable child death).

Yet global awareness days should be more than a mark on a calendar. While awareness is a critical component of action, it’s just the start. Global awareness days pose opportunities to take stock of our progress and chart a path forward.

Capitalizing on commitments

This November, I’ve been thinking about using awareness days to get policymakers to take action on the commitments they’ve made. In 2012, for example, the governments of Ethiopia, India, and the United States joined the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at an event in Washington, DC, that led to A Promise Renewed, a commitment by 176 governments to end preventable child death in a generation.

That summer day, I sat in a packed theater in Georgetown and listened to a presentation on how we can end preventable child death within a generation. I watched Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization; Tony Lake, executive director of UNICEF; and health ministers from around the world pledge to do their part.

Global action plans like this continue to outline steps to drive down child mortality. The integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhea, called GAPPD, is the first to show how pneumonia and diarrhea can be tackled together. The Global Vaccine Action Plan envisions extending the benefits of immunization—one of the most effective public health interventions of all time. The UN Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children aims to bring to scale 13 priority tools. And the Every Newborn Action Plan, now in development, will provide a road map to end preventable death in the first 28 days of life.

Time to take action

What better time than now to mobilize resources and make progress on these global action plans?

On this year’s World Pneumonia Day and World Toilet Day, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) took clear action to put their money and time toward fighting pneumonia and diarrhea in high-burden countries. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, USAID’s assistant administrator for health, instructed the agency’s missions to use the awareness days to convene stakeholders to assess the state of pneumonia, diarrheal disease, and associated integration policies and programming; to determine which country-specific policies and resources are needed; and to share US government resources to assist their countries in moving forward.

A chance to do more

The global health community should applaud USAID for using World Pneumonia Day and World Toilet Day to catalyze action. As citizens, we too should use awareness days as springboards. We should encourage governments and donors on all levels to go farther and take action to end preventable child and newborn deaths.

It’s time to hold our governments accountable for putting our resources behind the commitments we make.

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  • Erin Fry Sosne is a policy officer in our Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.