As a break from the the goings on in the Bug household, I give you a slightly more reflective piece:
In general I love being at home with Girlbug and Boybug. Then we have a day like today, when we just don’t seem to gel as a family unit – all of us with competing, mutually exclusive needs. Never mind tears before bedtime, there were tears before breakfast in this household.
It’s on days like today, when I utter under my breath “I need to go get a job and put them in childcare”, when I reach for the gin or the chocolate, when I wish away every second until bedtime, that I need perspective.
This isn’t going to be a gushing post about my blessed life. I hope those close know how important they are and how fun they make things. No, this is about taking a look at some science reports that came out this week that are just… well…staggering.
First, the positive.
As a very naive 18 year old I entered university just as the first draft of the human genome was announced. The world’s largest scientific collaboration had succeeded. My lectures were full of the promise of great things, it was an exciting time. Later, at work, I saw first hand the pace of change in molecular methods – what I had learnt only a few years before was already out of date.
So this week’s announcement that the first parents of children with unknown genetic conditions have received a diagnosis through the 100,000 genomes project struck a chord with me. We are now able to scan whole genomes for genetic problems. By comparing the child’s genome to their parents’, we can see whether this is a spontaneous mutation, or hereditary. It resonated both as a parent, and as a scientist. What an amazing scientific achievement. It provides answers, offers hope of treatment, and gives a better understanding of what the future holds for these children.
As I was contemplating this, I saw a post on Facebook about child and maternal mortality around the world. It doesn’t have the obvious individual human story of the first, and the numbers are hard to grapple with. But it is so so important.
A Promise Renewed is a multisector organisation bringing together governments, civil society and the private sector to try to reduce child and maternal mortality. They updated their dashboard this week with the 2015 data. Very flashy, but I find their report with the hard facts easier to digest. Here’s my brief summary:
- In 2015, 5.9 million children died before their 5th birthday.
- 45% of those deaths occur in the first 28 days of life.
- In eight countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, at least one in ten children die before they reach 5.
- Children whose mothers don’t have a secondary education are 2.8 times more likely to die before age 5.
- Some countries still have a gender gap – with girls at a higher risk of dying than their male counterparts
- 16% of deaths in children under 5 were due to pneumonia, 9% due to diarrhoea. These numbers jump to 17 and 10% respectively when considering West and Central Africa alone, with another 13% of deaths due to malaria.
- Almost half of deaths in under 5s are attributable to undernutrition.
There are some positives though, and progress is being made. Under 5s mortality has fallen by half since 1990. Vaccinations, skilled birth attendants, oral rehydration solution for children with diarrhoea, improved access to health care, appropriate infant feeding, improved sanitation, bed nets in malaria endemic areas, HIV testing and treatment. These are all helping. But implementation is not straightforward and the results are inequitable. There’s a long way to go.
So, while I’m amazed and excited about the advances in biomedical sciences, and overjoyed for the children and parents who are benefitting from these, I am also sad. Sad that medical advances aren’t filtering down to lower income countries. Sad that even basic medical needs aren’t being met in many places. Frustrated at the system, at the lack of awareness, at the rate of change.
I offer no answers here, just a perspective. Like always, I find myself coming at it from several angles – scientist, mother, concerned world citizen.
And back in the Bug household, calm has returned. The kids are asleep, I have wine and perspective, and I’m ready to take on whatever tomorrow throws at me!