The Happiest Birthday

By Benjamin Backe

Amid the ruins of the Cagayan de Oro flooding emergency of 2011, CRS met this Filipina girl, celebrating her fifth  birthday in her family's badly damaged home.  For many children around the world, reaching the age of 5 can mean the difference between life and death. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

Amid the ruins of the Cagayan de Oro flooding emergency of 2011, CRS met this Filipina girl, celebrating her fifth birthday in her family’s badly damaged home. For many children around the world, reaching the age of 5 can mean the difference between life and death. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS.

This year, 6 million more healthy children are turning 5.

During the week of June 23, members of the 5th Birthday and Beyond Coalition, including faith-based organizations, secular NGO’s, members of Congress, and representatives from partners around the nation and around the world, are meeting in Washington, DC, to celebrate what has been achieved in the campaign for child survival over the last 25 years, particularly for children under 5 years of age.

Throughout the developing world, the most uncertain time in a child’s life is from conception until her or his 5th birthday. It is during these years that the child is especially vulnerable to threats such as disease and malnutrition. Every year the lives of millions of such children are lost to pneumonia, measles, Malaria, AIDS and starvation.

But once a child achieves his or her 5th birthday, once that milestone is reached, his or her chances of long-term survival increase dramatically. It is, after their birth, the second most important indicator of a long and healthy life.

But getting children to this point can be difficult. And it is not enough to just supply food and medicine to those in need—though this is certainly part of the work. The conditions which allow the situation to exist in the first place must also be changed.

5thbirthdaylogoOne of the most important factors of helping children thrive is ensuring that they have enough nutrition and ready access to medical assistance. In the long run, the only way to achieve these goals is to empower local communities. This objective has typified CRS’ work in places like Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where CRS employees have partnered with local community members to promote health and fight child mortality. Through these partnerships, CRS has helped farmers increase their annual crop yields and trained thousands of community volunteers in health care practices such as detecting the signs of malnourishment; preventing mild cases of diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia from becoming life threatening; and the importance of referring serious cases to local health care professionals.

The work CRS, the federal government, and many other NGO’s have participated in over these last decades has changed lives for millions of families. It is why we are so proud to join with the other members of the 5th Birthday and Beyond Coalition to celebrate this June and reaffirm our commitment to a world where no children die from preventable causes.

The road still stretches before us. Millions of children still need our help. And even as representatives from each member organization travel to Washington, countless others will continue the fight around the world. But we also know it is important to commemorate success—to take a moment to reflect on the past, so that we can better envision the future. So this June we celebrate a 48% decline in under-5 child mortality since 1990. We celebrate the more than 10 million children who will lives free of the debilitating effects of diseases such as polio.

And most of all, this June, we celebrate 6 million more 5th birthdays.

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