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The worth of one child

In our world, another child dies every 20 seconds from infections that could be prevented with immunizations — 2 million deaths per year. That all could be prevented for a few pennies per child.
In our world, another child dies every 20 seconds from infections that could be prevented with immunizations — 2 million deaths per year. That all could be prevented for a few pennies per child.
Jani Bryson, Getty Images/iStockphoto

One child. In this season, when we pause to celebrate the birth of one child, we ought to pause and reflect upon just what one child is worth. To you, that is, what one child is worth to you.

Would you run into a burning building to save a child? Bravo if you answered with a quick, sure, yes. Most of us would hesitate, hoping that our paid heroes would get there in time. I mean, isn’t it their job? Would you stop your car and run across the street to shoo a young child back from the curb? Or drive on, clucking your tongue about “Just where are his parents?” After all, isn’t it their job? On the street, a small child is being hit by a bigger child (or perhaps a parent). Intervene? Or is this the police’s job?

Sorry about your discomfort; I am deliberately trying to induce you to feel the depth of your commitment to the worth of a child. And it is of course always easier to say “it is not my job,” or “there is no room at the inn,” or “you are on your own, child.”

This month our federal leaders are wrestling with the question of the worth of one child. A coalition of countries, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) is right now asking the governments of the world to step up and pledge support for ongoing efforts to immunize the world’s children. GAVI will be immunizing tens of millions of children, saving them from the ravages of illness and saving millions of lives.

In our world, another child dies every 20 seconds from infections that could be prevented with immunizations, 2 million deaths per year. That all could be prevented for a few pennies per child. But what about their own governments? Isn’t saving these children their job? Why should we be asked to step up and save these kids? The short answer is because we can. Because these are our children too.

Even if your beliefs lead to isolationism, the world is no longer big enough to let us hide, or to keep us and our children safe. Neither microbes (nor other terrorists) respect borders much. The most distant hamlet in the world is only a few hours away by air. We cannot hide. Nor do we want to. As a world leader, the U.S. has a lot at stake in the health of the world. The health, safety and freedom from fear of the world’s families have trade implications, military implications, terrorist implications and not least, moral implications. Do we in the U.S. hold our heads high as a responsible compassionate people?

The U.S. is being asked to pledge a billion dollars over the next four years to support GAVI’s ongoing immunization efforts. Now, a billion dollars seems like a lot, but when you break it down, that is $250 million per year, spread over the U.S. population of 316 million. It is only 79 cents per citizen per year.

Now back to that one child. Picture him bright-eyed, enthused, giggling, full of every promise. What is it worth to you to save him?

I won’t ask you to run into his burning building, nor to run to his burning country. I will ask you to make a phone call. Contact and urge your president to make the pledge. Urge your senators and your representatives to support Senate Resolution 688 and the McCall-Reichert letter. Tell your leaders that you are OK with them investing your 79 cents to save a child. After all, it is your money, it is your child and yes, it is your job.

William E. Cosgrove, M.D., is president of the Utah chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.