Why a Congressional child survival prayer in celebration?
This article first appeared in The Hill.
By Gary Edmonds & Lisa Bos
Because when Catholic Relief Services (CRS) engaged in a four-year effort to stem maternal and infant mortality in East Ghana, funded by USAID, infant mortality dramatically declined from 62 per 1,000 live births to 14. Because when World Vision implements PEPFAR funds in Zambia, AIDS orphans grow into healthy teens. Because even in drought-prone Ethiopia, Food for the Hungry turns USAID food aid into improved agricultural productivity that benefits children.
Food for the Hungry, a Christian global health and development organization, helps beneficiaries like Adane, a family farmer and father of two, earn payment or food aid in exchange for hillside terracing and tree planting. This USAID-funded project fills the hunger gap so that Adane’s young children get the nutrition they need – for the long term. Over 98 million seedlings have been planted which help regenerate groundwater sources, improve soil fertility and stream productivity, and prevent erosion. Food for the Hungry is training farmers in important farming techniques like crop diversity that help them grow enough nutritious food and save young lives from lifelong problems caused by chronic malnutrition.
You wouldn’t know that Geoffrey Matiya, a lively 14-year-old boy, has been HIV-positive since birth. Both his parents died from AIDS; he lives in Zambia with his great aunt and uncle and is one of the children supported by PEPFAR through a program implemented by World Vision. A key factor in the program’s success is its network of 40,000 caregivers, with support of the Ministry of Health, who make bi-weekly visits to households to provide counseling, testing for HIV and malaria, psychosocial support to orphans, and more. The project is about to end. Not because it’s failing, but because it’s working. Caregivers now have the tools and commitment to sustainably provide services to communities affected by HIV; stigma has reduced; HIV prevalence rates continue to drop; lives are being saved, especially women and children.
Success stories such as these, hidden by the headlines, highlight the key role many faith communities play in delivering lifesaving results for children and families by partnering with the U.S. government.
Though it varies widely, faith-based organizations average twelve percent of their funding from government sources, an investment that is leveraged by the generosity of the American people. According to the Center for Faith & The Common Good report, for every $1 invested by the U.S. government, American faith-based organizations raised $5 in 2014, illustrating just how strong grassroots and faith community commitments are to international assistance. Success is unprecedented: Preventable deaths for children under age five have fallen by more than half since 1990, from 12.6 million to 5.9 million in 2015.
So when women in Ghana have little say in their pregnancies and child-rearing,part of Catholic Relief Service’s challenge to reduce maternal and child deaths was to overcome harmful cultural practices. CRS trained community health volunteers to help persuade husbands and mothers-in-law to include the mother and choose healthier birthing practices. CRS also brought on board community leaders with the power to sway public opinion like village chiefs, religious leaders, elders and queen mothers. Results in East Ghana are impressive: Skilled assisted deliveries increased from 43% to 97%; breastfeeding increased from 43% to 94%; maternal mortality decreased from 275 to 57 per 100,000 live; and infant mortality declined from 62 to 14 per 1,000 live births.
Despite genuinely remarkable achievements, of particular concern is early infant death. In 2015, 45 percent of under-five deaths occurred within the first 28 days of life. Ending preventable maternal and child deaths will not be reached without accelerating targeted progress. U.S. government investment is key; no country is more vital in its funding, influence and leadership. Scaling up proven interventions to reach the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children and mothers is a challenge where the faith community, particularly in rural contexts, can be a strong asset. We’ve often been on the local frontlines for decades and have the trust of communities, many of which have deeply-rooted faith traditions.
This work saves lives and it provides other important returns. Every dollar invested in stopping chronic malnutrition returns $30 in higher lifetime productivity; for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, more than four dollars is returned in saved health care costs and increased economic productivity. For all these reasons and so many more, at only .6 percent of the federal budget, global health and poverty-focused development funding must be protected from harmful cuts.
“Whether or not faith-based organizations choose to receive government funding, U.S. foreign assistance benefits the vulnerable women and children served by our members,” said Garrett Grigsby, Executive Director of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH). “CCIH’s 180 members and affiliates are grateful for Congress’s support for programs that save lives. Our members know how important American leadership is, and we trust Congress will continue funding this lifesaving work.”
Responding to ‘the neediest’ isn’t just a good idea, it is the moral instruction of every faith. We stand united in celebrating congress and congregations across our fifty United States for standing in partnership on behalf of all God’s children.For more information about the role of faith in global health and development: faithforinternationalassistance.org.
Gary Edmonds is president/CEO of Food for the Hungry, a Christian organization founded in 1971, inspired by Psalm 146:7, “He upholds the care of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.” Food for the Hungry is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.
Lisa Bos is Director of Government Relations, Advocacy and Government Relations, International Programs Group for World Vision US. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian, development and advocacy organization working to address the root causes of poverty and injustice in nearly 100 countries.
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