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Makis Kosmatos Q&A: The reasons behind The Right Start

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In October 2018, JOHNSON’S® Baby set out to do what it’s always done: support families by helping to create a world where every baby can thrive. This time, however, our support didn’t come in the form of gentle skincare products.

On October 8th we launched The Right Start campaign in Lebanon and Ethiopia with the aim of providing unregistered children with a document so vital to their futures – a birth certificate.

Here, Makis Kosmatos, Area Managing Director for Johnson & Johnson AMET, explores the reasons why JOHNSON’S® Baby chose to tackle such a troubling issue facing millions of parents in the region, and how the initiative hopes to improve the lives of children.

Q. What are the objectives of The Right Start campaign?

The Right Start was born out of a pressing need to help children access the most basic of human rights, needs, and protection simply by providing them with a birth certificate.

Today, the gap in birth registrations in the Middle East and Africa is a deeply troubling issue affecting over 91 million children in the region alone. A lack of identity can lead to displacement, statelessness, and the inability to prove that a child is a minor in the eyes of the law. Although government agencies in Ethiopia and Lebanon are actively trying to register as many affected babies as possible, they lack basic infrastructure, training, and resources to fulfil this mission. We aim to help.

Q. What triggered the urgency for JOHNSON’S® Baby to launch this project?

JOHNSON’S® Baby is an advocate for all babies across the globe. The health and wellbeing of infants, and particularly those who have been displaced or live in remote communities and therefore face barriers to basic human rights, is a challenge that must be addressed. The consequences of being unregistered may range from vulnerability to traffickers to difficulties attending school and obtaining a passport – all of which threaten the future of infants.

In Ethiopia, the registration process exists but is inaccessible to the 82 percent of families living in extremely remote areas. In Lebanon, many unregistered babies come from Syrian refugee families, because birth registration programs haven’t yet reached refugee settlements. This is a situation that needs to be addressed and fixed urgently.

Q. How did JOHNSON’S® Baby gain insight to the issue of unregistered births?

The JOHNSON’S® Baby team travelled to Ethiopia and Lebanon in August 2018 to meet with the families and children affected by unregistered births and hear their stories first-hand.

Parents shared their concerns with us, and explained how they lack the basic tools and resources to help their situation. They also expressed fears that their children are at risk of threats like child labour and trafficking, or unlawful detention as an adult unless they have proof of age and identity. These insights only reinforced the importance of our work and highlighted the country-specific causes at the root of the problem.

Q. How will The Right Start impact lives in the region?

By helping grant children access to the rights we all deserve in life, quite simply, and ensuring their futures are full of as much opportunity as possible. Increased registrations will help stateless babies access the right to healthcare, education, and protection in the eyes of the law.

Functionally, our three-year programs established in partnership with Save the Children in Ethiopia and Lebanon focus on educating staff within governmental institutions, so they can educate families on the process of obtaining a birth certificate, therefore driving registrations upwards. We’ll also provide counseling support to affected families, and even accompany them throughout the birth registration process if necessary.

Q. Why have you chosen Save the Children as a partner for this campaign?

Partnerships or initiatives such as these are so important to a successful outcome because of the greater access to insight, resources, and expertise the right partner can give. Save the Children was the obvious choice. The organization has been a valued partner of ours for more than two decades, and we each share a vision of a world where every child has equal opportunity to thrive and live a healthy life. We’ve worked side by side throughout the world to build the resiliency of children, and that’s why they were an indisputable choice for this initiative.

Q. What’s the future plan for The Right Start?

The challenges and consequences of unregistered births have no geographic boundaries. Once our goals in Ethiopia and Lebanon are fulfilled, we’ll look at opportunities to expand the reach of the initiative to other locations so that more babies receive the care they deserve. At the moment our focus is on bridging the registration gap in the Middle East and Africa through our three-year programs. We’ve also pledged to donate $1 million worth of baby care products to families in need across the Middle East and Africa as part of the initiative, to make sure the skincare needs of more babies are also met. That’s what we do best, after all.

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