Young Superheroes: Spurring a new hope to end preventable child mortality in Pakistan

Monday 10 November 2014

Meeting “Superheroes” for child health was a fascinating experience. These kids aged 10 to 15 years were all taking part in the Race for Survival at the IBEX club situated in the amusement park of Lake View in Islamabad. What really made my day and warmed my heart was to see the enthusiasm and above all the knowledge of these 10 to 15 year old boys and girls on child mortality, the value of nutrition for expecting mothers, newborns and lactating mothers, and the medical, nutritional plus religious value attached to breastfeeding.

After looking at the recently released data from Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (PDHS), it made me wonder how we as a nation are digesting the fact that despite being a nuclear power, we cannot even reach 45 percent of our newborns for vaccination. How is it possible that almost 60,000 newborns die within the first month and every 1 in 11 cannot even survive beyond five years? Over 54 percent of women in Pakistan do not have adequate food resulting in high malnutrition amongst them. As demoralizing as the data is from this survey what really concerns me is that not only in Asia but Pakistan is ranked one of the lowest in the entire world when it comes to saving newborns from preventable diseases which can easily be controlled by administering simple vaccinations.

Saddening as it may sound let me walk you through the sea of hope which I encountered while being a part of Race for Survival. I asked a young girl aged just 10 years from a public school of Rawalpindi why she was there? “I am vaccinated and I am here to tell our government through the media to please vaccinate every child across Pakistan,” she responded. Not long after, media persons interviewed her and she confidently uttered the same words with those facts and figures which many of the media persons were not aware of. “There are 352,000 deaths of newborns every year in Pakistan and I want every child who comes into this world to survive and live a healthy life, just like me and many of my brothers and sisters,” was her response.

Amazingly, it was not only her; I was soon standing beside a group of kids from a school of Barakaho, situated in the vicinity of Islamabad, whom I decided to engage in a friendly conversation about  nutrition, frontline health workers and immunization.

Besides testing their knowledge on the themes they were representing, my conversations dawned upon me one more reality that most of these children belonged to lower and middle class areas/ families of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Thinking that these kids might have been asked to learn the numbers and facts about child mortality, nutrition and breastfeeding, I threw some general questions their way like what is meant by child survival. Why are kids not getting vaccinated across Pakistan? Or how many diseases can vaccines prevent?

I got more than what I was expecting as one of them aged 12 responded, “Survival means not only living or breathing but living a healthy life by getting vaccinated, later educated and then contributing to the progress of Pakistan.” Another aged 15 tugged at my arm to tell me that, “You know why not all newborns don’t get vaccinated?” and before I could respond, he told me, “Because our government has not yet recruited enough vaccinators and lady health workers in many far flung areas of Pakistan and that’s what we are demanding through this Race from the government; to raise the number of vaccinators in villages and rural areas across Pakistan so that every child can grow like us.”

Astounded as I stood and saw these kids making the lineup for starting their race, I wondered that if no one else, at least these little “superheroes” have a dream and promise to deliver to this great country. May God bless them and help them raise their voice for the safe and healthy lives of newborns, mothers and all those contributing to such noble causes. 

A Writeup by: Saeed Ahmed, Advocacy & Campaigns Manager, EVERYONE Campaign.