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A common cause of blindness in India is preventable, but treatment is not always accessible

Prescription eyeglasses can correct ‘refractive error,’ which causes blindness for nearly 8 million people worldwide.
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Paras, an 11-year-old boy, reads a book by moving his fingers along the text in Braille at the school for the blind, Central Khalsa Orphanage, Amritsar India in January 2014. (Harman Boparai/Courtesy)

AMRITSAR, India — Harpreet Kaur, 13, prefers to sit in the front row of all her classes. She likes playing with her friends and watching her favorite shows on TV, like any teenager in her hometown. But in January, she noticed that she was not able to make out the images on the TV, even when she sat right in front of it. Her father took her to the eye hospital, and there doctors found that her vision was seriously impaired, and probably had been for a few years.

In most of the world, the leading cause of blindness is cataract, usually affecting people over the age of 60. But 8 million people are blind due to what’s called ‘refractive error,’ when the eye cannot clearly focus images, a condition that usually crops up in childhood. It is a very common visual impairment that is entirely preventable by wearing the right eyeglasses or contact lenses, but worsens without appropriate correction. If corrective lenses are not prescribed early, there can be irreversible loss of vision.

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Standing still won't stop measles

Guest post: From South Sudan to sporting events like the Sochi Olympics, measles is a disease that doesn’t respect boundaries. But it can be prevented with a vaccine, and the international community needs to do more to ensure that everyone gets it, says UN Foundation President and CEO Kathy Calvin.
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UN Foundation President and CEO Kathy Calvin meets a mother with a sick child during a February 2014 visit to Kakuma 1 Hospital in the Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, where many South Sudanese have fled after weeks of turmoil in their home country. There have been 82 cases of measles infection among South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma. (Alex Kwameru/UN Foundation/Courtesy)

KAKUMA, Kenya – Last week, I traveled to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, where many South Sudanese have fled after weeks of turmoil in their home country. The camp offers refuge to more than 130,000 people – mostly women and children who had to leave nearly everything behind. During my time at Kakuma, I was humbled by the important work that is being done by United Nations humanitarian workers and their partners to provide food, shelter and safety for the refugees. 

While visiting Kakuma 1 Hospital, I saw many children suffering from malaria and malnutrition. But I was most struck when the head community health worker there told me about a one-month-old baby girl who was admitted with a severe case of measles, brought by refugees arriving from South Sudan. The baby was so ill that the health worker feared she would not make it.

Many refugees around the world flee their homes to escape insecurity and violence, but the sad reality is that they also face the deadly threat of infectious diseases like measles. This threat often emerges in conflict zones as routine immunization breaks down and humanitarian aid is restricted. 

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Harvard panel to explore the path to ending child mortality

A panel at the Harvard School of Public Health, which will be live streamed here on Wednesday, examines what works and what doesn't in the fight to reduce under-5 deaths around the world.
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(Samuel De Leon/Photoshare/Courtesy)

BOSTON — The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health will host a panel on Wednesday about the steps that can be taken to reduce child mortality around the world. The event is presented in collaboration with GlobalPost and will be live streamed here, on GlobalPost’s Pulse blog, starting at 12:30 p.m.

The panel discussion comes weeks after UNICEF released its 2013 progress report on child survival. The report announced that at the current rate of progress, as many as 35 million children could die between 2015 and 2028. The event also follows up on a Special Report published by GlobalPost titled "Step by Step: The path to ending child mortality."

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Opinion: 'The moment of truth' for child survival

A pioneering doctor on child survival says now is the time to remember the highly successful Child Survival Revolution of the 1980s.
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World Health Organisation (WHO) and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) Goodwill Ambassador Smriti Irani (C) holds a child being fed an ORS solution. (Manan Vatsyayana /AFP/Getty Images)

In the 1970s, I joined the World Health Organization to help start and lead its new diarrheal diseases control program. The goal of the program was to reduce diarrheal mortality using a highly effective method of rehydrating patients by mouth using a solution composed primarily of salt, sugar and water.

In 1982, I wrote a paper with a colleague estimating that 4.6 million children under age 5 died each year from diarrhea — a shocking figure. Today, under-5 deaths caused by diarrhea have declined by 90 percent. Why? The treatment is inexpensive, easily administered at home, and it works.

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Millennium Development Goals: When failure means success

Global health advocates are calling for accelerated reductions in child mortality to meet the 2015 deadline, even though they know we won't reach the UN goal. Why many still consider MDG 4 a success story.
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Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Politicians in suits, entrepreneurs in jeans and philanthropists, aid workers and journalists dressed somewhere in between descended upon New York City this week for the annual meeting of the United Nations. 

And with about 800 days to go until the Millennium Development Goal deadline, conversation around 2015 cropped up everywhere, from cocktail receptions at UN headquarters in East Midtown to rapid-fire panel sessions at the Social Good Summit on the Upper East Side.

Two questions prevailed: What can we do to reach the MDGs by 2015? And what new development goals should come after 2015? That the president of the UN’s 68th General Assembly declared this year’s theme “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” only elevated the stakes for discussing the answers.

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Child mortality rates are falling, but Millennium Development Goal is still far off

A report released by UNICEF Thursday says the world will not meet the UN's Millennium Development Goal on child mortality until 2028.
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A mother with her 3-year-old daughter who suffers from chronic diarrhea and tuberculosis, at the District Hospital, Panna, Madhya Pradesh in Central India. (Harman Boparai/GlobalPost)

The number of children who die before their fifth birthday declined by nearly 50 percent between 1990 and 2012, from more than 12 million to 6.6 million, according to a new UNICEF report.

Despite the good news, the world is not on track to reach the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to cut the 1990 child mortality rates by two-thirds by 2015. Unless the world more than quadruples the annual rate of reduction in child death, it won’t meet the MDG until 2028.

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Step by Step: The path to ending preventable child deaths

It’s not all bad news in the global effort to reduce child mortality. In fact, the number of children who die every year before age five has declined significantly in the last two decades and continues to drop at record rates. But the fight is far from over. Of the nearly seven million young children who died in 2011, the majority died from preventable causes. What works and what doesn’t in the fight against child mortality? What does it take to go the last mile, and bring this number down to zero? GlobalPost investigates. 

Step by Step: The Twins of Panna

GlobalPost health reporting fellow Harman Boparai travels to India, where he was once a physician, to take a deeper look at child health in his home country. This story is focused on twin girls born in India's Panna District, which has one of the nation's highest child mortality rates.

Step by Step: Focus on malaria

Photographer John Stanmeyer has taken his camera around the world for an in-depth look at malaria. He comments on his photographs, the people he met on his journey, and the tragic toll malaria takes on children and families around the world.

A picture of health in Zambia for children under five

Health correspondent Marissa Miley reflects on the country’s recent pneumococcal vaccine rollout.
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Vaccines, including some to protect against pneumococcal disease, at the Shimukunami health clinic in Lufwanyama, Zambia (Marissa Miley/GlobalPost)

BOSTON — It’s been several days since I returned from Zambia. The jetlag has eased its grip and I can sleep past six o’clock in the morning. As I prepare to write about what I saw and heard for our Special Report on child mortality, “The Seven Million,” I’ve been poring over the photographs I took throughout my trip to invigorate my reporting.

As I look through the nearly 1,000 photos I snapped, their thumbnails dotting one scrollable window on my computer, I’m struck by the still images of Zambia’s health system: dusty benches outside a health clinic in the rural northern district of Lufwanyama; tall brick and iron fences bordering a private health facility in a suburb of Lusaka; two pediatric pharmacies housed at the nation’s premier hospital, University Teaching Hospital – one for those who can afford the 750 Kwacha (around $140) “high cost” fee that makes them eligible for expedited services and more plush accommodations, and the other for those who cannot.

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