Shocking News? Bipartisan Support for Child Health

Paige Harrigan 2 Paige Harrigan, Save the Children, Nutrition Advisor

Westport, CT

Friday, February 25, 2011


Last week, I found a pleasant surprise in the free Examiner newspaper they hand to commuters hurrying down Metro escalators here in Washington. The paper has a conservative slant, but the editorial on page 2 made the case for common political ground. The headline’s bold letters cried out, Child nutrition: A true bipartisan issue.

Yes! That was my personal reaction because I’m a mother and I’m a nutritionist. I know how critical proper nutrition is for childhood development and health. And here was the Examiner saying Michelle Obama’s child nutrition effort both “enjoys and deserves bipartisan support.”

Last month the same paper ran a story suggesting a possible link between the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign and an increase in pedestrian deaths. That story caught fire in some regions of talk radio and the blogosphere.

I only wish the Examiner’s message on child nutrition would catch major attention, too. Maybe it can, if only because, in the current political environment, bipartisanship is itself pretty shocking. Perhaps an even bigger story along the same lines could really grab the spotlight.

Imagine, for example, conservatives and liberals joining together in a broader strategy of investment around child health. Imagine them recognizing that the nutrition and health of children – not only in the United States, but also around the world – is directly connected to America’s future.

Well, surprise! On some level, that’s already happening. A broad range of officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Democrats like Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Nita Lowey, and Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Dave Reichert, are among those who agree that investing in development abroad is a critical investment in U.S. national security and our economic future.

Unfortunately, the House Republican leadership isn’t listening, yet. They’re talking about slashing all international assistance, which would drastically undermine programs for children’s nutrition and health. I wonder how much they have thought this position through. Too much austerity today not only denies millions of children the chance to grow up healthy and productive, it increases the risk of global instability and economic stagnation tomorrow.

That’s because, shockingly, one third of children in the developing world are chronically malnourished. That means their physical and intellectual growth is likely to be permanently stunted. They will never reach their full potential.

Malnutrition also puts these children at far greater risk of early death. Yet, things as simple as breastfeeding and introducing a more diverse diet to children under 2 can protect them from fatal disease. As it stands, eight million children die each year before they turn 5 years old, mostly from preventable and treatable causes, such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

U.S. foreign aid has been instrumental in helping many countries reduce child deaths – cutting the annual global toll in half over the last 40 years. We cannot stop now.

I think we can all agree we want to grow the global markets that our nation’s economic growth increasingly depends on. And I think we all can agree we must guard against global instability that costs us far more when it bubbles into terrorism and war.

So why not agree on this as well: let’s invest in children to provide an indispensable foundation for our future – both at home and abroad.

Sarita’s Story: Helping Students Stay Healthy in Nepal

Sanjana_profile_picture Sanjana Shrestha

Nepal Information Coordinator, Save the Children

Kahtmandu, Nepal 

Friday, November 19, 2010

For Sarita, 15, going to the bathroom during school used to bring fears of being bitten by a snake or embarrassment of having people see her going out in the open.

“The surrounding area of the school has poor sanitation,” explained Surya Prasad Bhatta, a teacher at Chaudyal Lower Secondary School in Kailali District of Nepal, where Sarita is a student. “The students would usually have to go on the river bank or in the jungle due to lack of toilets. It was difficult for them.”

Sartia “It used to take a long time to go to the jungle and come back to school,” added Sarita.

 But two years ago through a Save the Children-supported program the school built four new toilets for boys and four new toilets for girls. 

 “Things are different now,” said Sarita. “We use the toilet, and we don’t have to stand in long lines because we have enough of them. There is privacy, and it is less time-consuming.”

 To keep the restrooms clean, each student contributes two rupees (3 cents) to buy supplies like hand soap, detergent and buckets.  (The money also helps restock the school’s first-aid kit with medicines.)

 The school has set up a daily schedule, assigning each class and the School Health Management Committee to clean the toilets on different days. Inside toilet

Handwashing Helps Prevent Illnesses

 After going to the bathroom at school, children used to crowd around the one hand pump – the only source of water near the school – to wet their hands.  “We didn’t have soap before,” says Sarita.

 Save the Children installed two handwashing stations near the new toilets at school. These stations include pumps that you push by hand to get clean water, a large jug with a spout for pouring the water and soap. Students were taught about the importance of washing their hands to prevent bacteria and viruses, which can cause illnesses, and the proper technique for handwashing.

 “We learned that we should always wash our hands using soap and water before eating, after using the toilet and after touching human waste with your hands,” said Sarita.

 Since the handwashing stations were built, Sarita says fewer of her friends are getting sick, especially from diarrhea.

And, her teacher is seeing changes in the community as well as at school.  “Students have also developed a habit of washing their hands with soap at home,” said Bhatta.

 Outside toitletsThe new restrooms and handwashing stations are part of Save the Children’s School Health and Nutrition program that aims to help children stay healthy and stay in school.  The program includes providing children with access to safe and child-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and education.  Over the past two years, Save the Children has helped put 355 toilets in schools and preschools in Nepal. And, in 2009 alone, Save the Children installed 489 handwashing stations at Nepali schools.

 

Santosh Mahato,  Save the Children’s Nepal Health Programme Coordinator, contributed reporting. 

A Hands-On Approach to Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation in Schools.

Jessica headshotJessica Harris

Media Relations Intern, Save the Children

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blue skies and sunshine abounded as I walked down Connecticut Avenue yesterday morning on my way to the Academy for Educational Development’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene event. Birds were chirping, people were sharing a laugh on a street corner, and I even caught myself humming a tune as I approached the AED building.

This feeling of joy soon dissappeared as I began to tour the WASH exhibit.

Did you know that 50% of schools worldwide do not have access to clean water?  As I read the children’s stories from developing countries that are currently displayed in the AED exhibit, I chastised myself for being so naïve to the plights of others.

As the crowd found their seats, Jon Hamilton of NPR introduced us to Jack Downey of AED, Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and the three panelists who would be speaking.

In total, seven people addressed the audience. The message, however, was the same.  By implementing WASH programs in schools in developing countries, we are improving the quality of life for the students as well as their families.

Tippy station

A "Tippy Station", complete with water, soap, and hand towels, was available for attendees to take turns washing their hands during the event.

Denise Knight, Water Sustainability Manager for The Coca-Cola Co., shared a story that highlighted the importance of providing clean water to developing countries.

During one visit to a community in which WASH programs were just being introduced, one community member said that they had been getting their water from the nearby stream for as long as she could remember. It had never dawned on them that the water was contaminated. It was, though, and the community had had its fair share of loss because of the dirty water. At the time, there was only one child under the age of 5 still living in the town.

Stories like these make you stop and think about how lucky we are. I rarely question whether I will be able to wash my hands with soap and water when I use the restroom or sit down to eat. Even less common is my fear of contracting an illness like worms or hepatitis from tainted water. To take this one step further, and to be completely honest, I have never thought about dying from contracting a preventable illness like diarrhea.

This is a real fear, though, for many children across the globe: 1.5 million children die from diarrhea annually.

As I left the WASH event today I felt as though I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Here I had been enjoying listening to my iPod and drinking my $5 Starbucks coffee just two hours earlier, and now I could not stop thinking about the millions of children to whom contamination and severe illness are an everyday threat due to the lack of clean water.

The work done by organizations like Save the Children, UNICEF, AED, and others is commendable and, in reality, a lifesaver.

_______________________

Update:

Today, October 15,  is Global Handwashing Day. Bloggers around the world are raising awareness of the topic by posting about water as part of Blog Action Day, an annual event intended to spark global action. 

Join Us for Global Handwashing Day on October 15

Handwashing cropped By Save the Children's Manager of School Health and Nutrition in Pakistan

Pakistan

October 8, 2010


Have you washed your hands today?

What may seem to be a common practice to you is not so common in other parts of the world. 

Next week, Pakistan will join countries around the globe to promote “Global Handwashing Day” on October 15. 

Why the need for a Global Handwashing Day? 

Each year, children worldwide miss 272 million school days because of diarrhea. One of the easiest ways to help prevent the spread of diarrhea and other diseases is by washing your hands.  But many school children, including children here in Pakistan, have no access to clean water or soap at their schools.

Last year, on the night before Global Handwashing Day, I received a text message.  It said, “Washing hands with soap can reduce 30% of diarrheal deaths in children.”  Several more text messages rapidly followed, each highlighting the benefits of handwashing.

One of Save the Children’s education officers in Khyber PakhtunKhwa Province (KPK) came up with the idea for the texting campaign as a way to spread the message to a lot of people in a short time.  And, the best part — it cost almost nothing.  He estimates that up to 3,000 teachers, community members and parent-teacher council members at the 150 schools where Save the Children works participated in the texting campaign, sending messages to their family and friends. 

This year, we have lots of fun school activities planned, from poster competitions to skits to street walks with public officials, teachers, community members and children.  

We will be posting photos of some of our activities and others from around the globe here on our blog, so we hope you’ll check back on October 15.  Let us know what you are planning for that day, too.

Looking for a way to get involved?  Why not share Save the Children’s new “dirty word” video on germs and the importance of handwashing.