Interview with GAVI Board member and the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the US Agency for International Development
Amie Batson answers questions about the flurry of activities around reducing child deaths from preventable diseases, including 23 April launch of the social media campaign, “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday” and the upcoming child survival meeting in June in Washington.
Could you describe the picture of you as a five-year-old that will be placed on the Every child deserves a 5th Birthday website, launched today?
I lived in Newington, Conn., with my family. I was probably in kindergarten. I was the third of four kids. I liked school, I got in trouble a fair amount. I was fairly mischievous, with a mind of my own. I lived within walking range of school in a nice safe neighborhood, and desperately wanted a dog.
How do your children, ages seven and nine, fit into the conversation about every child living to their fifth birthday?
I think of how fortunate my children are to have a safe environment, safe water, and a healthy life. This started from the day they were born. They were born in a hospital, had fabulous antenatal care, had a fabulous doctor who was there to take care of anything that could have gone wrong. They had all immunisations. Both they and I are extremely fortunate.
What’s the biggest message in this upcoming child survival meeting in June in Washington?
One of the most important messages is that everybody, in every country, is responsible for the survival of their children. That is a big shift. There’s always been some government responsibility, or the donors’ responsibility for paying for these things. … No child should die. Giving a child an opportunity to survive and grow has got to be the responsibility for everyone.
We can prevent most of those deaths. We have cost-effective, high-impact tools and we know they work. We’ve adopted them, and not in just rich countries, but in a lot of developing countries. These tools can make a huge impact on child mortality. It comes down to real political will and the governance that happens with more country ownership.
At a GAVI meeting just a few days ago, there was a quote from Nelson Mandela I saw: ‘There is not a clearer revelation of a country’s soul that how they treat their children.’ That really stuck with me.
What are the interventions making the biggest difference?
Clearly immunisations. Also bed nets, basic nutrition, breast feeding, PMTCT (preventing HIV transmission from mother to child.)
Some experts are talking about zero children dying from preventable diseases. What do you think of that?
Everyone agrees no child should die. Period. What you translate that into, in terms of setting goals, is the next exercise. We need to set ambitious goals that drive to that vision. Should we set a goal for zero deaths tomorrow? No. But the tools we have, and the real game-changers you can’t predict and can’t model yet, will have extraordinary impact. M-health is one of those. Once we really start using this kind of technology for reaching the mother, and the family, with information and updates, to give them better tools and access to care, that will make a huge difference.
We need to give information to health workers to monitor progress in real time so that people know exactly what is going on, and there are not lag times. Then you go into the potential with what smart phones can do with apps. With smart phones, you can even do an eye exam in 10 seconds. There’s a range of stuff we can do in this to change the quality of the intervention in communities so that we will not be so constrained by bricks and mortar.”