Originally posted as an OpEd in Politico. Actor Ben Affleck is founder and director of the Eastern Congo Initiative. Rajiv Shah is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
More than 7 million children — most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — are expected to die this year before reaching their fifth birthday. These kids will never have the chance to follow a passion or fulfill their potential.
But in our lifetime, we have made remarkable headway toward ending child mortality around the globe. In the past 50 years, the child global mortality rate has declined by 70 percent. In just the past 20 years, the number of child deaths has fallen by 4.4 million each year.
This progress is extraordinary. Yet there are still places, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, that these advances have yet to reach. In Congo, a country buffeted by decades of violence and political instability, nearly 465,000 children die each year from preventable diseases, like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea. Chronic malnutrition also afflicts nearly 45 percent of all Congolese children, permanently stunting their physical and mental development.
This reality is abhorrent. Particularly since we possess the tools and knowledge to save these 7 million lives. By focusing on affordable, easy-to-use solutions — like bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria, vaccines, nutritional supplements and rehydration therapies — we can add Congo and other nations to the ever-growing list of countries celebrating this extraordinary global reduction in child mortality.
The Eastern Congo Initiative, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and numerous Congolese-led civil society organizations, is working to address these crises by supporting Congolese-led solutions. Using existing resources and simple technologies, like bed nets, the initiative is building support for the groundbreaking new focus on child survival in Congo.
To address the devastating rates of child mortality in Congo and other countries, Washington and other governments are now working with UNICEF to convene a Child Survival Call to Action. This group is designed to bring together representatives from more than 80 countries — including government, civil society, private-sector and faith leaders — to build support for this new approach to child survival.
The event will highlight commitments to reinvest in maternal and child health, especially for vulnerable communities in urban and rural settings like those in Congo. Together, we can help ensure that all Congolese mothers and children have access to basic, lifesaving technologies, medicines and experienced practitioners.
The question is not whether we can keep kids alive in Congo — and worldwide. The question is whether we will.