Monday, November 16, 2009

Child Mortality Declines but WWII is Still Happening

(Below you shall find an op-ed I submitted to three newspapers. Since they didn't accept it, I thought I'd post it here.)

According to a recent UNICEF report, there is some cause for celebration. Last year was the first time on record that the global annual number of children who die before the age of five was less than 9 million. While 12.5 million children under five were dying in 1990, the number in 2008 was estimated to be 8.8 million. The decrease means that “10,000 fewer children are dying every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

Moreover, this trend is accelerating. As stated in the report, “the average rate of decline from 2000 to 2008 is 2.3 per cent, compared to a 1.4 per cent average decline from 1990 to 2000.” Consequently, fewer children are dying and this amount is getting even smaller over time.
Much of these gains have been achieved through increases in immunization, access to insecticide-treated bed nets, and Vitamin A supplements. Such measures can reduce the effects of malaria and other viruses, increase the ability to fight infections, and improve maternal health – a key factor in the health of the child.

Despite these positive developments, the scale of these deaths remains staggering. Nearly 9 million children under the age of five are still dying every year. It seems inconceivable that anyone would fail to consider this state of affairs as horrendous or challenge the idea that something must be done to stop millions of children from dying unnecessarily. Unfortunately, despite the frequent claims of outrage, the actions taken to address this horror are severely lacking.

The two leading causes of child mortality are still pneumonia and diarrhea. Both can be treated with vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent or stop the viral and bacterial invaders that are causing lung inflammation or the severe loss of fluids. The cure for many types of diarrhea often requires only the replacement of lost fluid and salts. This solution appears to be as easy as it is difficult to mobilize resources that would allow action. Yet, there was a different time when the scale of death was the same but resources were easily mobilized.

Sixty years ago, the world saw the birth of a tragedy on a similar scale – the second “great” war that destroyed lives and nations. With a total loss of life in the range of 55 million people over a six year period, it surely represents one of the most terrible calamities in the twentieth century. But that loss of life is precisely what the world continues to experience, every six years, in countries around the world. Unlike WWII, however, the vast majority of these deaths result from entirely preventable causes, and all of the victims are children.

The above comparison is not meant to minimize the deep sacrifices and incredible determination of countries and peoples during WWII to fight against injustice to make a better world, but to suggest that similar effort and determination is required to address the present horror that is unfolding all around us.

WWII continues to be recognized as an appalling situation: there are memorials, commemorations and overt discussions of the evil exhibited. Alternatively, children unnecessarily perish on the same scale, day after day, year after year, and it goes by almost entirely unnoticed.

It does not have to be like this, however. UNICEF and other organizations have a multitude of programs that are combating child mortality and every day improved treatments, such as vaccines against pneumococcal pneumonia, are being deployed to save additional lives. Widespread child mortality is an evil that can be countered; all that is lacking are the resources and the determination of individuals around the world.

It is within your power to help; go to and realize that giving mere dollars will allow you to provide life-saving antibiotics or clean drinking water and help stop the carnage that is plaguing the world’s children. Learn more, tell your friends, and get involved in helping to end this ongoing calamity.

It is a terrible thing for people to kill each other with all manner of weaponry; it is a truly tragic thing to stand by while little children needlessly die when it is so easy to help.


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