How do you save the lives of children who would otherwise die of diseases like pneumonia, the number one killer of kids in the developing world? Get a hometown hero on your side.
Frontline Health Workers are saving lives every single day in places like Uganda and Kenya, where I traveled just a week or so ago, and in Nepal, Bangladesh and countries all over the world. These workers—predominantly women—are active in their own communities and often have just a basic primary school education. But they are there every day, in the places where kids and moms are dying and can be saved, using common sense and simple tools to save lives. They are given training on how to recognize and treat basic childhood illness like pneumonia and diarrhea that can kill kids if not treated quickly. They need only simple supplies, like stopwatches to measure a baby’s breathing rate to check for signs of pneumonia, oral rehydration solution to treat dehydration, and simple picture books they can use to teach moms how to breastfeed. These tireless heroes walk hundreds of miles a month to make house calls to pregnant moms, newborns, or sick children who need them.
But these heroes are often working against some tough odds. In Uganda, the average woman has an astounding 7.1 children. And sadly, girls as young as 14 or 15 are giving birth while they are still only kids themselves, when their bodies are often not fully developed. And when children are born close together, women have little time to recover from childbirth or to focus on the health of their young children. Family planning services can be spotty in a place like Uganda, but they are an important part of improving the health of mothers and children—and Frontline Health Workers can help deliver these critical services.
Sometimes health workers are not allowed to treat common childhood diseases, due to push-back from the country’s medical establishment. While doctors and nurses are a very critical part of saving lives, the reality is that many mothers and children can’t or won’t get to a health facility where doctors and nurses are located. Basic health services must be delivered where and when children need them. For parents or pregnant women, it is often not possible to walk for hours to access a clinic or hospital. And sometimes very poor patients can’t come up with the money or supplies they need once they get to a hospital. Poor families don’t have the cash for these basics. Frontline Health Workers need to be able and empowered to treat common childhood and adult illnesses.
It’s estimated that millions of health workers—trained, equipped and supported individuals—are needed in the developing world to provide basic healthcare where it’s most needed. Save the Children has helped form a coalition of organizations here in the U.S. to push for more support for one million of these workers and, specifically, for U.S. funding to train and support 250,000 workers as soon as possible. Waiting means unnecessary deaths. Read more about the joint efforts of the Frontline Health Worker Coalition.
In my travels, it becomes clear to be that heroes come in many forms. There are the community-based heroes mentioned above, who bring much-needed care to their neighbors and friends. There are the individual supporters, like you, who read this blog and are part of making the world a better place for children. And while I was in Uganda, a new group of heroes joined the effort…superheroes, actually! The We Can Be Heroes campaign—featuring the Justice League (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others)—launched in January to bring superpower attention to the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The needs of children are great and varied. But each of us can find the hero inside to stand up for a child who deserves better. And in Uganda, Kenya and beyond, kids are healthier thanks to Frontline Health Workers who are providing basic services. These hometown heroes deserve our support…and our thanks.