Oct. 1, 2015 | Washington Post

About 15 years ago, countries around the world agreed on Millennium Development Goals to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the developing world, among them HIV/AIDS, maternal health, education and gender equality.

While many evangelicals were slow to come to the table on these issues, a few faith leaders did take a stand, gradually leading their communities to become involved, with some significant results.

In 2015, HIV/AIDS hasn’t been eradicated, but the tide is turning, the numbers are declining and there is cause to take a moment and celebrate. There are other amazing victories in global health as well. Since 1990, the U.N. reports, progress has been made on many of the goals:

* The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half.

* The number of out-of-school children has fallen by half.

* The under-5 mortality rate has dropped by half.

* Maternal mortality has nearly been cut in half.

We celebrate this good news while recognizing we still have a few miles to go before we can finish this fight. We must keep the faith for the millions who still are dying by mosquito bite, diarrhea, dirty water or a cold.

On Sept. 25, countries gathered at the U.N. General Assembly to agree to a new set of Sustainable Development Goals and targets for 2030. These goals encompass economic, social and environmental transformation for humanity and the planet, addressing prosperity, peace and partnership.

This is a real moment for the faith community to hit “refresh” and join this united front of governments, nonprofit organizations, institutions and foundations to finish the race. The time is ripe for all to come together with their leadership and lend a voice to help shape policy, affect legislation and join in the efforts — large and small — to meet these global health and development targets of 2030.

History has shown that this group can be one of the most effective when united toward a common goal. While the Barna Group showed that evangelicals, especially, were slow to come on board for HIV/AIDS in 2000, we know that once they did get involved, their leadership moved the needle.

This group rallied in support of increased U.S. government assistance during the Bush administration to create historic legislation, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In 2002, only 50,000 people had access to anti-retroviral medication to fight HIV/AIDS. Today, over 14 million people have access to these lifesaving drugs, thanks to American tax dollars.

We hope to see the faith community similarly get behind funding for an area that we believe is a lynchpin for almost every single one of these Sustainable Development Goals: women’s health and women’s empowerment. If we can keep moms healthy, keep girls in school and provide women the resources to make good decisions on when to have children and how often to have children, poverty and hunger will decline, and good health, education and equal opportunities for women will grow.

Arguably the church, people of faith, should be at the helm of such sustainable changes. Religion is all about the care of widows, orphans and the refugee. The threads of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, call us to attend to vulnerable populations, the sick and the imprisoned.

We have the knowledge. We have the will. We need the hands, the feet and the voice of the body of Christ to act.

Our calling is for everyone to take a stand and lend a voice for these Sustainable Development Goals.

We look forward to one day celebrating our successes in saving lives, perhaps within our generation.

(Jenny Eaton Dyer is executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands in Nashville, Tenn. She is a lecturer in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University.)

This article originally appeared on the Washington Post.

Sept. 28, 2015 | Washington Post

Bill Gates is now focused on the eradication of malaria, and parasites everywhere have reason to fear.

There are, he tells me, two possible places to draw a line across Africa marking the next northward advance of malaria elimination. “If you want to get all of Zambia,” he explained, “you also have to get Katanga” (a portion of Congo where health services are weak). Clearing islands such as Papua New Guinea and Madagascar, he says, should be relatively easy. A new Gates Foundation report argues against malaria containment in favor of malaria elimination — a goal that has provoked skepticism even among some malaria experts. Gates wants to see the plasmodium at Appomattox.

The billionaire’s main contribution to global health is the manner in which he combines technology, aspiration, resources and rigor. It is the same approach that has chased the polio virus across the world to its redoubts in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gates both drives and reflects a remarkable trend. Over the past 25 years, efforts to help the global poor have been massively ambitious and massively successful. More than a billion people have risen out of poverty. Tens of millions more are in school, or have been saved from infectious diseases. Child mortality was halved, then halved again. More than 9 million people are on AIDS treatment in Africa. It is now possible to set goals in a number of areas — malaria elimination, an AIDS-free generation, the end of extreme poverty — and not be dismissed as a crank.

Read the full article on the Washington Post.

During the Why Christian? Conference in Minneapolis, MN many people were asked to record a short “audio selfie” that answers the following question: When you think of a moment of doubt or struggle, what person or experience has prompted you to ask deeper questions about your faith? How do these questions sustain you in your journey?

Sept. 21, 2015 | Maria Shriver

Serviam. I will serve. That is the motto of Ursuline Academy, the Catholic high school I attended in Dallas, Texas. It was also the ethos of the Catholicism that I grew up with. I was taught — in school, in church, in my home — that service is a form of holiness, and I believe that the philanthropic foundation my husband and I run is the logical extension of this lesson.

Pope Francis has put the fight against poverty at the center of his papacy. His words and actions remind me of the strong link between faith and work. I am proud to stand with him as a member of the Church, joining the global community of people committed to improving life for “the least of these.” So many of the partners in this community are people of faith — many different faiths, I might add — and they express their faith in action. We are told in the Gospel of Mark not to hide our light under a bushel, but I find that many people who have never read Mark take seriously the injunction to give their light to all who are in the house.

[Read more essays on Faith, by Deepak Chopra, Martha Beck, Pema Chodron and many more Architects of Change, as part of this special series]

One of the hallmarks of Pope Francis is that he listens, truly listens, to the poor. In the past 15 years, I’ve tried to do the same as I’ve sought to answer the hard questions about poverty — why are people poor and what are the best ways to help them lift themselves up? From those conversations and from the evidence, one thing I have learned is that it’s impossible to study poverty without studying the unique predicament of women and girls in societies around the world.

Women and girls are more likely to be poor, and more likely to suffer from the consequences of poverty, like ill health and the lack of education. So when the Pope talks about the fight against poverty, he is also talking about a better life for women and girls in particular.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ essay] 

And there’s more. Because women and girls are caretakers who give so much to their families and their communities, empowered women and girls are actually one of the best resources we have in the fight against poverty for everyone. When women and girls are healthy and educated and have the power to make decisions, the decisions they make build the foundations for a thriving future for the world. On this issue too, the Pope has been a champion, commenting specifically on gender inequality and the “scandal” of wage differences between men and women. Pope Francis is helping millions of people make the connection between women and girls and the fight against poverty.

I have decided to devote the rest of my life to fighting poverty and pursuing equality for women and girls. It is what my head and my heart tell me to do. It is how I can follow through on the promise I made as a girl at Ursuline Academy — to serve. In this era we are blessed — not only those of us who are Catholic, but all of us — to have Pope Francis to help us understand what it means to serve.

Sept. 2, 2015 | Huffington Post

September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month in the U.S with the goal of bringing attention to our relatively high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), representing the estimated number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.

According to the Center for Disease Control, "the IMR is often used as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also affect infant mortality rates." The most recent data here in the U.S. shows that for every 1,000 babies born, six die during their first year.

While that seems like a relatively low number, the U.S. ranks 50th in the world in infant mortality. Compared to other developed nations, we fall behind many including most European countries, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

But the good news is that we now have a greater understanding of the main factors affecting fetal health, and we can address key risk factors such as obesity and pre-natal smoking. This number has been reduced over the last 60 years due to medical advances in pre- and post-natal care, and through education, we will continue to drive those numbers down.

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As we promote awareness here in the United States, we also want to hold up the issues of infant mortality in developing nations, where the IRM can be as high as 60 for every 1,000 live births. In many low-income countries, the average age of marriage for young women is 16, as in Ethiopia or Guatemala. And if these young women can delay their first pregnancy until 20-24, they are 10-14 times more likely to survive the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, than if they were pregnant in their late teens. And the child is twice is likely to survive the newborn stage if the mother can space her pregnancies just 3 years apart.

These young mothers need a spectrum of interventions including access to folic acid, prenatal care, nutrition, and skilled attendees during childbirth for themselves and the health of their newborn. We need to provide both education and the resources, including access to contraceptives, to help these women time and space their pregnancies, so that their families, too, can thrive.

In an increasingly globalized world, mothers in the United States have much more in common with moms around the world than we might realize. We all love our children and want them to flourish, and we all deeply mourn the loss of a child in any of our villages and communities. As we promote awareness here in the United States to combat infant mortality rates, let's also consider how we might advocate for women in developing nations to reduce infant mortality rates there as well.

Together, we can build a healthier, happier world for moms and children.

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

But who is a statistic? A statistic is a person, a mother, daughter, sister, an aunty. She is the nameless woman that gets added to the reports about the problems, the needs, and the gaps to be filled.

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