Flu virus lethal for infants born into poverty

While the flu season means an increase in visits to the doctor, one Australian GP reflects on what it means for families living in poor communities.

This post was originally published in The Mercury on 23rd September, 2015.

Every parent knows that a cold winter is no small concern to their newborn child. This year was a particularly difficult one, with a peak of viruses that has seen a steady stream of snotty, miserable babies through my door as a rural doctor.

On Monday, Josh comes in. He is usually a happy baby with rosy cheeks and bright brown eyes but a virus has left him pale and dull-eyed.

The virus has caused bronchiolitis, a condition that has got him working hard to breathe and he’s not feeding.

Josh doesn’t need to go to hospital so I give some advice to mum on how to keep him hydrated overnight. He makes it through two nights and I am happy to see by Wednesday he is still a little sick but happily munching on a banana. Mum is relieved, but it doesn’t take a doctor to see she is exhausted from worry. Everybody knows that look.

Right now somewhere in the world there is another mother wearing the same look, her son is equally sick but won’t recover and sadly she will join a global statistic.

Every day around the world parents of 16,000 children will watch their child die from a poverty-related illness. She does not have access to basic nutrition, housing and immunisations. She cannot afford to treat a simple infection.

You might find that number as harrowing as I do, if I could stretch out a hand to those children, I would.

You might think 16,000 children a day is too large a problem to solve, but 15 years ago the number was 27,000.

As part of the greatest global effort to end suffering the United Nations Millennium Development Goals helped the world achieve this reduction in deaths in addition to halving extreme poverty, halving hunger, increasing the survival of birthing mothers and more.

We achieved so much in the span of a few years, and you as Australians were part of that. Even if we only contributed a minuscule 0.2 per cent of Gross National Income to foreign aid.

Want more exciting news? There is hope for these children. By 2030 we aim to end extreme poverty for all.

Our next chapter after will be guided by the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are designed to help and support every country in the world, including Australia.

On Friday, September 25, at a summit in Washington DC, world leaders will meet to agree on these goals.

The SDGs are achievable with a strong commitment to aid. Our new Federal Government needs more public support to continue our aid programs — and remember this is in our best interests.

Tasmania has a strong tourism partner with China, a country that has lifted itself out of poverty.

We also have strong trade partnerships with India and throughout the Asia Pacific, these will continue to grow if there is ongoing development in the region.

Countries with less poverty have more security. We also protect ourselves from the spread of disease if we keep levels low in our region.

These benefits and more are supported by the leading economists behind the SDGs.

Tasmanian families are grateful that the flu season is coming to a close so let’s use the SDG summit commit to better health for our global family. What can you do?

Share it. Talk about it. Tell our leaders we support it.

Dr Marita Jones is a GP in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. She is a Tasmanian, who was raised in a family of 10 kids in Granton. She graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2011 and is a registrar of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

This campaign is backed by Australia's aid & development groups

Business for Development is for Australian Aid VGen is for Australian Aid Australian Conservation Foundation is for Australian Aid
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