Jennifer E. Dyer, PhD is Executive Director of Hope Through Healing Hands, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote a higher quality of life for citizens and communities around the world, using health as a currency for peace.

Global child health is an issue that affects all of us, and there are some things we ought to know about how this affects not only our Hispanic community, but really the entire world. Here are some of the things we need to know from an expert working in these social justice issues. What is the most important time in a child’s life to contribute to life-long health?

The first thousand days of a child’s life may be the most important in terms of impacting their health for their entire life. We mean from conception, so that’s actually until about a little after two years old.

What are the critical needs of these first thousand days that Hispanic moms and families may not be aware of?

Making sure moms have access to good pre-natal care, making sure they’re taking their folic acid, and their vitamins, access to a health provider, a caregiver, and then it also means having access to good nutrition for the baby, and for the mom, and clean water, which we sometimes take for granted here in the US. All of that is critical during those first nine months to prevent stunting issues for the health of the child, as well as the cognitive development of the child.

The next critical time is during the birth, having good skilled attendants; sometimes in developing nations, a mom might choose to have the child at home, which can often be dangerous for the mom, and many women die in that case. It’s vital to make sure there’s a skilled attendant for the birth, and then afterward, getting vaccines, breast feeding, and proper nutrition for the child. Past that, it’s key to learn how best to plan for further children. We have learned from good research that shows us, particularly in developing nations, that it’s important for moms who are living on less than a dollar or two a day, to space their children three years apart. If they can do this, the child is twice as likely to survive the first year of life.

As well as an infant mortality or child survival issue, it’s also an issue for the mom, as it combats maternal mortality. If she can debut a first pregnancy until the age of 20, rather than her early teens, which happens in so many cultures, including Latino cultures, the mother is five times more likely to survive the complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

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While we recognize it’s a poverty issue in the developing world, what are some of the obstacles for Hispanic moms and families here in the States getting this kind of care and information?

Maybe moms or dads just don’t know the importance of getting good access to pre-natal care, the importance of good nutrition during that time in pregnancy, and they might not know the critical importance of vaccines for their children as a life-saving mechanism. It’s just educating yourself about the interventions and that first thousand day window, which sets up the stage for the whole life of the child, and the success of the child, both cognitively and physically.

For someone who wants to get involved in helping to educate their communities, especially Hispanic communities, what would you tell them?

To learn more about these efforts and how you can help, we have put a book together called, “The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope.” It has a foreword by Kay Warren, a preface by Melinda Gates, and 48 other different authors from the faith community have contributed to this book, to really educate families in the Church – including Hispanic and Catholic churches – about these maternal and child health issues and how critical they are to saving the lives of moms and kids around the world.

What are some more things that people can do?

The first thing is to pray, really committing time to praying for these women and families around the world. Second is finding a good non-profit organization that supports women and children around the world. World Vision, World Relief, Compassion, these are all great faith-based organizations who are doing just this kind of work. That’s one way they can invest, not only their time, but their finances. Advocacy is a third way that Americans can get involved. Most Americans don’t know that less than one percent of our US budget actually goes to global health and global development.

That’s not what we hear. We hear that so much money is going to these other countries, but to hear that it’s less than one percent, that’s kind of startling, actually.

We’re not even tithing – it is not even one percent, technically less than two-thirds of one percent that actually goes to foreign assistance. Part of our job is debunking the myth that so much money is going to aid developing nations and reminding Americans that it’s just fractions of a penny. We need to let our congressional leaders know that we support them in doing the right thing, and fully funding maternal, newborn and child health for women and children around the world.

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There are some other social justice issues that are connected to healthy moms and healthy babies, one of them being human trafficking, another being orphans. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

We have some great authors in this book, including Christine Caine, Natalie Grant, Mary Beth Chapman, and others whose names might be familiar, who have written about human trafficking and the orphan crisis. These topics intersect with maternal and child health in the sense that healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies is a prevention mechanism for both issues. When you’re looking at extreme poverty, and people having too many children, or having children back to back to back, this can create a real financial concern. When a family can’t afford to feed their children, that’s when you start to see parents making horrible, very difficult decisions, to give up that child to an orphanage or allow their child to move into a place of trafficking. This one critical intervention in maternal and child health, the knowledge about how to space your children, and the knowledge about how to have the number of children that the mom and the dad want to have, can really help put an end to both the trafficking and the orphan crisis.

What else would you like to share for Hispanic families and communities?

We know what success looks like, we know what health looks like for a mom and a child, in Hispanic communities and cultures both here and around the world, and we know what to do. Praying, getting involved with a faith-based organization working on the ground, and advocating to your congressional representative or senators will make huge strides in saving millions of lives.

[ This article is also available in español. ]