(Photo: Jenny Eaton Dyer)
In 2002, only 50,000 people living with with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa had access to anti-retroviral drugs. President George W. Bush sought to address the millions of people affected by the disease with his PEPFAR program and US participation in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2002-2003. Today, over 12.9 million people now have access to ARVs worldwide, restoring health and life not only for individuals but also for families and communities.
While we may be winning the war on global AIDS, we still have much work to do in order to make comparable progress in improving the health of children and mothers.
Over 6.9 million children died last year in the developing world from preventable, treatable disease. Forty percent of those were newborns in their first month of life. Many of these children died of pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. And their deaths could easily have been averted with simple interventions like vaccines, oral rehydration, and bed nets.
Moreover, 1 of every 39 delivering women last year in Africa died in childbirth, and more than 287,000 women died worldwide from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Yet there are simple methods to prevent these deaths as well. Successful models for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, alongside an increase in births taking place in health centers with skilled care during delivery and post-partum care, offer clear paths to reduce maternal mortality and improve child survival.
Isaiah 65 describes a new heaven and a new earth. The prophet foretells a time where the wolf will lie down with the lamb. When homes will be settled, and the land will bear fruit. And, "no more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days." Infant mortality will cease. Perhaps that day is closer at hand than we could have imagined.
The good news is that we have the information and highly effective tools for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, including both fertility-based natural methods and modern contraceptives, to combat maternal and infant mortality. For instance, if a young woman in Africa can "time" or delay her first pregnancy until age 18 or later, she is much less likely to die or be crippled by medical complications, and dramatically more likely to stay in secondary school, and perhaps even attend college, providing stable financial support for her family to have a brighter future. Then, if she can "space" her pregnancies just three years apart, her children are twice as likely to survive infancy.
Through Hope Through Healing Hands, Doctor-Senator Bill Frist and I support healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies as the most critical global health issue today. We believe it's set to have ripple effects across societies: combating extreme poverty, promoting gender equality, keeping young girls and children in schools, improving maternal and child health, and preventing infectious disease.
But for awareness of this issue to spread, we need Christian partners to recognize family planning as a global pro-life cause. Spacing pregnancies saves lives and improves lives. Notable faith leaders and influentials are among the Christian moms and parents who have joined our Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. But we have just begun.
As we work together, let's also continue to pray for a new heaven and a new earth, as described by Isaiah, where maternal and infant mortality will be no more.