USAID, Churches Unite to Stop Preventable Diseases

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When an American child stubs his toe, gets a bad case of diarrhea, or is bitten by a mosquito, there's a very slim chance he'll die.

But across the globe, those same ailments will kill more than 7 million children under the age of five this year.

Hoping to help end the crisis, the U.S. government is now joining with Christian groups to get poorer nations the supplies and training they need.

"We used to live in a world where, for 20 years, the rich world would have access to new vaccines and essentially the poor world would not. We're this close to solving that problem," USAID administrator Raj Shah said.

He and leaders from 80 countries recently joined Christian and other humanitarian groups in Washington, D.C., to to chart a path to end preventable child deaths within a generation.

USAID is partnering with drug companies that make medications, like zinc tablets for diarrhea and pneumonia vaccines, that will save millions of lives.

The group is also getting involved with churches.

"Children are at the mercy of the adults in their lives and so many of the world's children depend on the kindness of American Christians," said Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren.

Saddleback Church is helping train church leaders around the world to be community health workers.

"We estimate that those faith organizations already reach 250 million people around the world," Shah said.

"And if they can get these behavioral messages out and people start changing their own behaviors," he continued. "(And) are more congnizant of drinking clean water, sleeping under a bed net, know the signs when they need to seek medical support when a child is ill -- those are the types of things that will save millions of kids lives."

It's a vital partnership because in many poor communities, civil society is nonexistent.

"But there's some sort of a church. And it may be an actual building, it may be a group of people who meet under a tree, but there's a church," Warren said. "There's a group of people who claim to know Jesus Christ."

"This is probably one of the best reasons I feel like we can make these kind of partnerships that amplify each other's efforts," she added. "Because the faith community is going to be there long after a government regime may change."

And while Christians have a biblical mandate to care for the poor and the sick, Shah said doing so also makes America stronger.

"We lead in development. We lead in global health," he explained.

"We do it because it's a reflection of our moral values, and we know when we reflect our moral values abroad and people see who we are, what we care about ... we're better off over time."

And it's an audacious but achievable goal that many governments and faith leaders are now determined to reach.

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.