How many children can $1 million save?
November 13th, 2013
09:09 AM ET

How many children can $1 million save?

By Ted Caplow, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ted Caplow is an engineer and social enterprise entrepreneur who has developed ventures aimed at addressing renewable energy, water conservation and sustainable agriculture. The views expressed are his own.

Last year, my wife and I welcomed triplets. Born six weeks early, they spent their first month of life in intensive care. Thankfully, we had access to the best neonatal medicine and our children today are healthy and growing. This life-changing experience, however, made us acutely mindful that our good fortune is not shared by many families and children around the world. In fact, nearly 18,000 children under five die from preventable causes every day.

The death of any child is a tragedy, and its significance should not be diminished by the fact that we live in a world where wealth and knowledge are unevenly distributed. I made it my goal to ensure that my personal resources are better shared and used to save children’s lives.

So I set out with a simple question: What is the greatest number of children’s lives that can be saved with one million dollars? I knew that I wanted to save lives that would otherwise be lost, and that I was willing to invest this money into any highly credible project, in any country in the world, to achieve that goal.

Looking outside of traditional channels of foreign aid and philanthropy, I set out to uncover and fund the best action plans for reducing child mortality. Judging from the 565 proposals received from 70 countries in the inaugural competition for the $1 million Caplow Children’s Prize, it is clear that there is no single answer to child mortality. The prize’s eight finalists reflect the range of approaches needed to tackle such a complex problem.

The Children’s Prize was carefully designed to allow anyone with a valid proposal – from individuals, such as academicians, researchers, and grassroots advocates, to organizations of any size or type – to compete on a level playing field. To ensure the widest possible pool of proposals, we used digital media to reach potential applicants around the world, and developed a simple online application form that could be completed without a professional development staff.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the global epicenter for high child mortality rates, one-in-nine children die before the age of five. Six of the eight Children’s Prize finalists work in this region. In Malawi, the World Medical Fund proposes to mobilize a fleet of medical units housed in 4 x 4 vehicles to reach remote villages, while in a separate project, the University of Malawi proposes to expand access to emergency breathing devices in neonatal care settings by disseminating simplified machines that have been engineered, in partnership with Rice University in Texas, to cost a fraction of what the same gear costs in the developed world.

In Mali, another deeply impoverished African nation, two of our finalists address the same problem from different starting points: the giant Doctors Without Borders and the tiny Project Muso, each proposing comprehensive strategies to boost child survival through more numerous, better trained, and better equipped community health workers. Elsewhere in the region, RISE International proposes to dig wells to bring clean water to children in Angola and Plan International would offer a drug-based seasonal malaria prevention program to every single child in hard-hit districts of Burkina Faso.

Two proposals from South Asia round out the group: AMOR aims to expand a badly needed pediatric unit at its hospital in Afghanistan, and Anita Zaidi, the only individual among the finalists, proposes a community health program in a Pakistani fishing village.

While the number of deaths in children under five worldwide has declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, according to the United Nations, it is evident that the Millennium Development Goal set by the United Nations – reduction of child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 – will not be met. We must continue to seek out innovative and effective approaches like those proposed by the Children’s Prize finalists and, wherever possible, connect them with new funding to enlarge the resource base working to save children’s lives.

The fact that the world is now more interconnected is critical to the fight against child mortality. Network-driven competitions like the Children’s Prize provide a model for a more competitive and transparent aid process, creating opportunities for meritorious solutions from any corner of the world to gain attention and support.

This same global network will also allow the Children’s Prize to closely monitor the progress of our winner and provide constructive feedback. Just as a person who volunteers at a local food pantry can see firsthand the results of his or her efforts and quickly assess where changes and improvements need to be made, communications technology has brought new insights to donors on how cost-effectively and swiftly programs can be implemented.

All of the finalist’s proposals address the urgent need for solutions to child mortality. To argue over philosophy and strategy is time wasted for children at risk. If we can instead encourage an open marketplace of solutions, we will be on a path toward that still distant future when every needy child around the world has access to the care that my own children were so fortunate to receive.

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Topics: Development

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    Perhaps the larger question, is why are we having so many children, that cannot be adequately provided for, in an age, where we have the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies??????

    November 13, 2013 at 10:20 am | Reply
  2. oneloaf

    I doubt the pregnancies ARE unwanted. In a low-resource setting, children represent significant future security. Where child mortality is high, controlling family size doesn't make sense until a good number of children pass out of the danger zone of early infancy to age 5. Where a premium is put on children's lives and every child born has good health more or less ensured, the motivation for having a large family wanes. Resourceful parents can then often avail themselves of the modern means for preventing unwanted pregnancies.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • THORN

      You may doubt it but you'd be mistaken. The paradigm you describe is long gone.

      November 13, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
  3. THORN

    That's exactly what I was thinking. The two best ways to cut down child mortality is contraception and the education of women. My God, they're proposing to save the lives of children for whom there is no hope and no work, it's more than cruel. These peoples (the donors) pets have better prospects for a happy life than these children. We have 7 billion now which is 4 billion more than the planet can support sustainably.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:30 am | Reply
  4. Dorothy Echodu

    Education of women is a good way to reduce family size, but so is valuing children's lives. To declare that saving the lives of children who are already born is "cruel" is not tantamount to, but actually is, an argument for infanticide. I find that distinctly troubling.

    November 13, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • THORN

      No one is suggesting infanticide, certainly I am not. There really isn't time for this kind of drama. We are one decent crop failure away from mass starvation. Listen carefully, this planet can not support this human population, period, full stop. There is a mass depletion of resources, from potable water, arable land, hydrocarbon fuels, fish stock, almost anything you can name, going on right now. What exactly do you believe is fueling the "Arab Spring" a deep yearning to be free? Get a grip!

      November 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Reply
      • Dorothy Echodu

        I am not trying to be inflammatory or dramatic. Denying life-saving medicine to sick children is a profound ethical choice. Limiting the arrival of future children is a goal I can understand, but you condemn those who are already here with your judgement that they have "no work and no hope". All lives have equal value, and the children involved–and their parents–would likely disagree that it's cruel to save their lives.

        Unless one has the fortune to govern China, one can't limit population growth by fiat–one has to persuade real people to have fewer children. I doubt the arguments you use would fly well in East Africa, where the average woman has 7 live births. We live in a globally connected world. Your concerns about planetary capacity are very real, but your discussion seems designed for the choir rather than widespread appeal.

        Of course we could try to limit population growth by simply neglecting health care in the developing world, but a) that's not very nice and b) it's pretty ineffective. Good studies show that better child health and family planning go well together–see for instance http://www.popline.org/node/475847

        Melinda Gates is very passionate about family planning and also very passionate about child health. Here's a quote:
        "Whatever the conditions of peoples' lives, wherever they live, however they live, we all share the same dreams."

        Saving childrens' lives does not have to be at odds with saving the planet and our own skins...

        On the contrary, the more we value one another and invest in one another, the better we will work together to conserve resources.

        November 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
      • THORN

        To DE's last words, you absolutely were trying, both, to be inflammatory and to be dramatic. All of the efforts for the past fifty years undertaken by people who think as you do have done nothing but to make the problems worse. A starving or sick child saved today becomes what? Perhaps they might become a desperate young person willing to do anything, child soldier, rug weaver, miner in a dangerous pit, for what, a bowl of rice? Now your good intentions have produced the next generation of slaves by any other name. Good job! I say no to that emphatically. Not one penny to produce one slave, not now, not ever. Dramatic enough?

        November 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
      • THORN

        then of course there's 268437

        November 13, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  5. authorsparadise

    Reblogged this on Infinitesimal Endeavor and commented:
    Really controversial topic handled fairly well.

    November 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  6. ✠RZ✠

    Try chilling out for awhile on a beautiful bare undisturbed rock outcrop (let's say like a chunk of granite near Two Harbors, MN). And what might you see growing on the rock? Usually some lichen and moss. Grows up every year, and dies back, and repeats itself, over, and over, like it's been doing for thousands upon thousands of years, though sometimes it might spread a bit. Life on a rock.... are we that much different?

    November 14, 2013 at 8:04 am | Reply
    • THORN

      fraid so, but nice thought.

      November 14, 2013 at 9:08 am | Reply
      • ✠RZ✠

        Yep (with a sigh). And go figure, has the Earth for the most part somehow added 4 to 8 thousand feet (or more) to it's crust over the past 65 million years ?

        November 15, 2013 at 8:41 am |

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