To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

A Mom’s Best Or Worst Day

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Every day, thousands of women celebrate one of life’s most amazing experiences — becoming a mother. But every 30 seconds a mother’s first moments with her baby are cut short, on the very day she gives birth.

 

Until now, we didn’t know how common this heartbreaking experience is in the United States and around the world. But Save the Children’s new report shows that one million babies die the day they are born.

 

State of the World’s Mothers 2013: Surviving the First Day also shows that today we have the evidence and cost-effective tools to save up to three quarters of newborn babies, without intensive care.

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In This Case, Second Place Isn’t Something To Celebrate

Early this month I took my first trip to Abuja, Nigeria. Despite visiting almost 60 countries with Save the Children, I had never been to the West African nation. It is a country of over 162 million, one of the most populous in the region and seventh most populous in the world. With an average family size of almost 7, it has the highest population growth in Africa-today, one out of every four inhabitants of the African continent is a Nigerian. While Nigeria may top the charts in these ways, it also unfortunately has the second-highest number of under-5 deaths. I wanted to understand about why so many children, and especially newborns, are dying in Nigeria.

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In Refugee Camps, Basics Become Luxuries

The Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan is home to more than 100,000 refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria, but it’s unlikely that any of the camp’s residents consider this place—cold, crowded and under resourced—“home.”

 

I traveled to Za’atari last week after the launch of Save the Children’s recent global report, Childhood Under Fire, marking the two-year anniversary of the conflict in Syria.  What I saw gave all of the statistics we hear about in the news—more than one million refugees in neighboring countries, and an estimated four million displaced inside of Syria —a very human face.

 

I met a young mother and her two month-old son at our infant and young child feeding center inside the camp.  She told me that when she and her other children fled Syria, they left nearly everything behind…including her husband, who stayed to protect their home.  She was very pregnant when they left and she was afraid she might give birth on the way, but she was too scared to stay.  Her town was being bombed heavily and she didn’t know if there would be a hospital left standing when it was time to give birth.  According to our report, many doctors and health facilities in Syria have been targets of attack and nearly a third of the country’s hospitals are now closed.

 

When this young mother arrived at the frigid camp, she found out about Save the Children’s infant and young child feeding program and sought it out, where they staff helped her find the right care for the birth.  Save the Children’s center—in a trailer inside the camp—works to help moms initiate and continue breastfeeding, get help on how to keep their babies healthy by providing access to vaccines and health services and receive clothing and blankets and high protein biscuits for nursing moms.

 

These small things, which until recently were considered basic items and interventions for new moms at home in Syria, have become luxuries for refugee moms in Za’atari.

 

Similarly, people often think of early education as a luxury for children living in refugee camps, but some families have been living in the camps for two years—and the interruption to young lives can be devastating.  Before the conflict, more than 90% of primary school-aged children in Syria were enrolled (one of the highest rates in the Middle East) but the conflict has upended their learning.  Access to early education, with a focus on nutrition, can make a world of difference for a generation of Syrian children.

 

I was lucky enough to visit with more than a hundred 3-5 year-olds there during their meal time at a kindergarten Save the Children set up inside the camp.  Every day, children enrolled in the school receive a meal of yogurt, fruit, bread with meat and juice each day—a major source of nutrition for kids, since food rations available in the camp consist mostly of lentils, bread, bulgur, oil and sugar.  This meal also helps them have the energy they need to learn in the classroom and, just as importantly, to play. Many of the children saw horrific things in Syria, experienced fear as they fled their homes and are living in very close and uncomfortable quarters—so having a chance to play with other children and just be kids is a crucial part of their healing and development.

 

No family should consider nutritious foods, safe childbirth and kindergarten a luxury and we’re working to make life a little easier for displaced kids.  But at the Za’atari camp, and for families everywhere who have been forced to flee due to violence, drought or conflict, the greatest luxury of all would be simply to go home.

 

And the REAL Award Goes to…

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Awards season is in full swing.

 

On Sunday night, Hollywood’s elite came together and celebrated last year’s accomplishments on the Big and Small screens at the 70th annual Golden Globe Awards. While millions from around the world tuned in and debated whether the most deserving winners were chosen, a smaller, but no less important, awards program was about to take place just a short drive south of the action.

 

The inaugural REAL Awards honorees were announced last night in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where nine U.S.-based health workers were named for their extraordinary service in health care. They may not be household names, but they matter enormously to the patients they serve. People like Carri Butcher, our winner in the hospice care category, who created a day spa at her own home in Arkansas for her dying patients so they could be treated to a little pampering before they passed. Or Esther Madudu, a midwife in rural Uganda, who is one of the nine global honorees we named last September. Esther’s clinic often has no power, so she delivers babies in the middle of the night by the light of her mobile phone screen.

 

The REAL Awards is a chance to shine the spotlight on the men and women who go to work every day to perform the greatest role of all — saving the lives of others. They may not grace the covers of magazines, but their work still deserves to be celebrated, especially since they’re needed now more than ever.

 

We’re currently experiencing a severe shortage of doctors in this country. While we can’t ignore this crisis, one way to address it, at least in the short term, is to rely more on other health workers — nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, community health workers, pharmacists — to perform the tasks that don’t require a doctor, as a recent New York Times editorial suggests.

 

No one knows the importance of health workers more than those in the developing world, where the dearth of doctors is even more stark. By some estimates, the world is short more than millions of health workers, including one million frontline health workers, who deliver care in some of the hardest-to-reach communities, oftentimes with limited resources. In fact, frontline health workers are the first — and often, only — point of contact to the health care system for millions of people.

 

Their role is invaluable. It is estimated that every three seconds, a child death is prevented thanks to care provided by a

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action

I spent last week at the Clinton Global Initiative and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. There was much talking about issues of international development, about the rights of children to an education, about stopping children dying from preventable things like pneumonia, about making sure that the world is free from hunger. But in the midst of all this talking, I noticed that there was simply not enough of one thing—not enough shouting. We need louder voices to make changes on what really needs to be done for poor children and families around the world. Simply put, we need more people to care and speak out. Loudly.

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Moussa’s story

When they brought Moussa over and laid him in my arms, my heart stopped for a minute. He was barely breathing and was so frail, I was afraid he might die as I held him. Though he was more than two months old, his arms and legs were tiny and frail and his breathing was labored. Here in a small village outside Diema in the West African nation of Mali, I saw what the face of hunger in the latest food crisis in Africa really looks like. It is the face of Moussa.

 

Moussa’s mother, just 18, brought him over to us when she saw the Save the Children car drive up. He had been identified that day by a health worker trained by Save the Children and now we needed to get him to the town for help. Moussa and his mom were bundled into the car and they sped away to the center in Diema, about 10 kilometers away, where Save the Children-trained staff were there to help him and food and medicine was available from other partners like UNICEF.

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It’s all about where you were born…..and to whom!

This past week and a half was a busy one—I found myself in Washington, DC; Delhi, India; and Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition to spending lots of hours on planes and

sleeping in airports, these vastly different places drove home for me the immense divide between kids’ lives in countries around the world. These differences are rooted in the rate of child survival and the striking disparity in their opportunity for a productive and happy life.

 

In 2010, nearly two million Indian children never had a chance. They died from easily preventable causes before they were five years old—things like pneumonia, prematurity and complications at birth that could have been prevented, and even diarrhea, which claims the lives of tens of thousands of Indian kids every year. This represents the death of 63 kids for every 1,000 born in India in 2010. In contrast, fewer than a thousand children under five died that same year in Denmark, where there are 64,000 annual births—making it one of the highest-ranking countries for child survival. Surprisingly, far more kids died in the US before they made it to 5—32,000 in 2010 or 8 children for every 1,000 born. And we lose most children in the US as babies: 57% of child deaths occur before they are even a month old.

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The Lifesaving 6: Hope for Moms and Children Everywhere

The following first appeared on the Huffington Post.

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I am a lucky mom.

 

I received quality prenatal care and gave birth in a state-of-the-art hospital. My kids received essential nutrition from the moment they were born through their early years, giving them a better chance to fight off disease and perform well in school. Today, they are on a path to reaching their full potential.

 

Many moms in developing countries such as Ethiopia, Niger and India aren’t so lucky.

 

In fact, children in an alarming number of countries do not get the nutrition they need from pregnancy to their second birthday–the critical window for ensuring healthy growth and development–according to Save the Children’s 13th annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The report shines a spotlight on the lifelong, if not deadly, impact chronic malnutrition has on millions of children across the globe.

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