By Jenny Eaton Dyer
November is Orphan Awareness Month. It is a time to raise awareness and funding for the millions of children around the world displaced by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. According to UNICEF, there are over 153 million children worldwide who have lost one or both parents. Of these orphans, HIV/AIDS has orphaned 17.9 million of these children, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
There is good news. The peak deaths has been reached, in 2005, and since then AIDS related deaths have declined by 30% worldwide. Moreover, while in 2002, less than 50,000 people in Africa had access to anti-retro viral (ARV) medications, today, over 10 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa have access to ARVs thanks to U.S. global leadership and American tax dollars.
With this decline should also come the decline in orphans, as well. More parents will live robust lives. More families will stay together. And more children can stay children, without becoming adults too early in life shepherding younger brothers and sisters.
This being said, there are miles to go and many children who still need our support.
As we pause to reflect on the orphanhood crisis this month, perhaps beyond awareness and fundraising, albeit necessary, we could also reconsider the role of prevention.
There are over 220 million women around the world who say that they want to avoid their next pregnancy but they lack the education or resources to do so. Many of these women are child brides, married by the time they are sixteen wishing to delay the debut of their first pregnancy so that they can stay in school and finish their education. Some of these women have had several children, and they simply cannot afford to feed or educate each child each day and wonder how they will ever support yet another.
And, very sadly, many of these women – that is, more than 287,000 – will die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. These younger women, if in their late teens, are three times more likely to die than if they could wait until after twenty years of age to have their first child. Yet, over 80 percent of these deaths are preventable and treatable.
When a mother dies during childbirth, the newborn is ten times more likely to die within two years of their mother’s death.
We can address these issues. We can contribute to ending the orphanhood crisis.
One critical intervention is healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies (HTSP) for women in developing nations. If we can address these millions of women with the knowledge and access to contraceptives to better time and space their children, we can save lives, close the gap on maternal mortality, and contribute to the prevention of orphanhood among children.
One great example of a faith-based program deploying HTSP is World Visions’ MOMENT projects in Kenya and India. The goal of these projects is to increase women’s access to high-quality, voluntary family planning services using community-led meetings and local networks so that communities have ownership of the program. World Vision seeks to work with gatekeepers in communities to educate leaders on the importance of HTSP to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. Because newborns without a mother are ten times more likely to die than those whose mother’s survive.
We advocate for stronger dialogue, particularly among faith-based communities, and support for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for healthier mothers and children worldwide. Let’s move beyond just awareness and rethink the critical role of planning families for women to stop the orphanhood crisis this Orphan Awareness Month.
Jennifer Dyer, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers & Children Worldwide, seeking to educate faith communities here in the US about the issues affecting child and maternal health in the developing world.
Photo Shawn Talbot / Shutterstock.com