Sep. 4

Commentary: Educating Mothers, Saving Children

by Leith Greenslade

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

The more educated a mother, the less likely her child is to die.

This is one of the most powerful relationships in global health and development — a mother’s level of education and her child’s chance of survival.

Studies have shown that half of the reduction in child deaths in the last 20 years is the result of increases in mothers’ general level of education. 4 million children are alive today because their mothers got an education.

This makes total sense when you think about it.

How exactly do we expect a young girl who has never been to school or has left school at a young age, who has never learned to read, who has been coerced into an early marriage and who lives a life of relative seclusion to have the basic level of health knowledge required for a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery and surviving newborn?

Give a mother the right information and empower her to use it, and she can work miracles in the most difficult of situations.

This is why educating adolescent girls and young women is one of the most important ways to reach Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4) — the global child survival goal that will only be achieved when we reduce the number of children under 5 dying each year from 7 million to 4 million.

At the moment, the world is seriously off track to meet that goal by the deadline — December 31, 2015.

We need to save children’s lives at three times the current rate. Or, to put it another way, we need to prevent the deaths of about 4 million children in less than 900 days.

It will take a massive outreach effort to educate girls and mothers in these countries, but if we can do that, up to 2 million deaths could be prevented, taking us one big step closer to MDG4.

It’s not as high a mountain to climb as it first appears.

Technology is on our side, and on the side of all uneducated girls and women. Where schools and governments and often families have failed to educate girls and women, the mobile phone, the Internet, the radio and the television can step in.

Today, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) released a set of free text and voice messages that can be sent directly to a mother’s cell phone anywhere, offering her advice on child nutrition and how to prevent and treat pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria — to name just a few of the messages. BabyCenter, a Johnson & Johnson company, developed these messages in partnership with MDG Health AllianceGBCHealth and UNICEF. They are free and open to all nonprofit organizations. You just have to go to MAMA and register to download them.

If all of the organizations engaged in child survival routinely communicated directly with the most vulnerable mothers and families during pregnancy and in the critical weeks after with messages like these, millions of families could be reached quickly and at low cost, and children’s deaths would be prevented.

Just imagine the impact if women in the last stages of pregnancy received and watched short videos on how to care for a newborn. This is exactly what Global Health Media Project and the Mother and Child Health and Education Trust are doing, and there are many other organizations producing content like this.

The media and telecommunications industries need to distribute these messages at low or no cost to families, and the global health and donor communities need to get behind these efforts and ensure that they reach the most vulnerable mothers in the regions where child deaths are concentrated.

More and more outstanding content is being generated every day. We need a massive outreach effort to get it to mothers on phones, tablets, televisions, radios and any other channels of communication that reach directly into homes.

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