34 MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY • SEPTEMBER 2013
With APA’s help, USAID brings together behavioral
experts to end preventable child mortality worldwide.
BY REBECCA A. CLAY
In many cases, experts know how to prevent child mortality. The trick is getting people to adopt those often- simple interventions.
Take hand-washing, for example. “Simply providing soap
and a quick demonstration has been shown to have a nice
impact on child mortality,” says psychologist John Elder,
PhD, a professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences
at San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public
Health. Multiple studies, he points out, show that proper
hand-washing reduces the incidence of diarrhea, which kills
1. 87 million children under 5 each year. But getting people to
actually wash their hands remains a serious challenge.
How to achieve that goal was the kind of question
explored at an evidence summit sponsored by the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) and
UNICEF in conjunction with APA and other partners in
Washington, D.C., in June. “Saving Children’s Lives: From
Evidence to Action!” focused on enhancing child survival
and development in lower- and middle-income countries by
achieving population-level behavior change.
Bringing together academics, technical experts,
practitioners, donors and government representatives, the
summit had two goals: achieving clarity on evidence to inform
policies, strategies and programs and identifying gaps in the
evidence as a way of shaping a future research agenda.
The summit was the brainchild of psychologist Robert
L. Balster, PhD, a professor of pharmacology, toxicology,
psychology and psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth
University, who serves as a science advisor to USAID after a
one-year stint as a Jefferson Science Fellow there last year.
The summit was a response to UNICEF’s and USAID’s
Child Survival Call to Action/A Promise Renewed, says Balster.
“It was driven by the knowledge that a lot of the global
health issues I learned about during my time at USAID
have a significant element of behavior change necessary
to achieve critical public health goals,” he says. “There has
been a downward movement in the rates of child mortality
— and it has been very encouraging that fewer children are
dying in their first five years — but the trajectory is still such
that it’s going to take a long time to end preventable child