By Michael Gerson
The Washington Post | Feb. 23, 2015
At a health center here, a young woman is in the recovery room after a Caesarean section. A nurse takes the newborn to a table for cleanup. We (a group organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies) are allowed to enter and see the child. But she starts struggling for breath. Three more nurses enter. One briefly applies bag-and-mask ventilation. Yet the infant’s breathing grows weaker and weaker as she turns a horrible shade of gray.
The suddenness of this little girl’s death, so soon after her welcome to the world, made it seem particularly cruel. To the nurses, however, it was hardly unusual. Later I was told that Tanzanian mothers often do not name their babies until long after birth, trying to avoid emotional attachment in a place where neonatal, infant and child mortality rates are so high.
I still don’t know what to make of the experience, except to pray for a woman and an innocent little soul and to realize that “neonatal mortality” is not something abstract. It happens in some room, on a table, under a heat lamp, where life’s best gift turns gray and cold.
Tanzania (along with much of the world) has made rapid progress in reducing child mortality — defined as children younger than 5. In one region I visited, rates have fallen by more than half during the past five years.
With the help of Gavi — the global vaccine alliance — vaccination rates in Tanzania are north of 90 percent, and new rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines are arriving. Women walk and bicycle for miles to have their children vaccinated, while some American suburbanites engage in vaccine denialism. Tanzania’s vaccination rate for measles is higher than America’s. With the help of the President’s Malaria Initiative and the Global Fund, Tanzania is making progress against malaria, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant mothers and children younger than 5.