Make a wish.
Millions of young children punctuate their birthdays each year by doing just that: a deep breath, a thoughtful moment, a whoosh of air toward flickering candles ... and a wish. It's an annual rite of passage played out in kitchens and around picnic tables throughout the country -- so much so that it has become routine.
The fact is, for most of us in the United States, it is routine. For all but a very few children, that next birthday is a foregone conclusion. In fact, just seven-tenths of 1 percent of American children don't make it to their fifth birthdays.
But the story is far different in many parts of the developing world. This year, more than 6.5 million children will die before age 5. That is nearly 18,000 children each day. The world's highest rates of under-5 deaths are concentrated primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, where, in some countries, more than 10 percent of children do not reach their fifth birthdays. Compounding this tragedy is the fact that most of these deaths are the result of preventable causes, including birth-related complications, undernutrition and diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria and HIV. Newborns account for 44 percent of all under-5 deaths, and two-thirds of these could be prevented with simple, low-cost interventions for mom and baby.
There is nothing more profoundly sad than watching parents bury a child who, had she received the proper care, likely would not have died.
What can be done? More than just wishing.
Over the past quarter-century, something has been getting done. Thanks to the support of the American people, the U.S. government has been able to make huge investments in child survival, joining with other governments -- including those in developing countries -- in a global effort to reduce child mortality rates. It has worked: This year, 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthdays than 25 years ago. The number of deaths of children under 5 has been cut in half since 1990. And progress has been accelerating.
Perhaps this acceleration is due to increased investments in children's first 1,000 days -- from conception to age 2 -- that are paying off by laying the foundations that help them thrive. In the 1,000-Day Partnership, the U.S. government and dozens of civil society organizations (including ChildFund) have joined together to focus attention and resources on providing the nutrition and care that children need during this critical window.
This same spirit of collaboration is driving a new partnership. ChildFund International is pleased to join dozens of diverse supporters as part of the 5th Birthday and Beyond coalition. It's an unprecedented campaign to create greater awareness about the progress that has been made in reducing child mortality and a timely reminder of how much work still lies ahead. While the United States has taken a leading role in helping children living in poverty reach their fifth birthdays, a sustained commitment to foreign assistance is needed to ensure that we continue to move in the right direction.
So this coalition of NGOs, civic and faith-based groups, businesses and philanthropies has come together to raise our collective voices in support of work that we know is effective. More children will survive and thrive if we continue to invest in what we know works for children and their families: a focus on women's health and nutrition before and during pregnancy; high-quality care for mother and child at and after birth; more immunizations to prevent disease, more bed nets to combat malaria, more clean water and toilets to reduce diarrhea; and more education about better nutrition and care throughout early childhood.
For all this, we must do more than just wish. We must convince our leaders that every child -- irrespective of his native land -- should live to see his fifth birthday ... and beyond.