What's Killing Our Children?

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Roughly 27,000 children are dying around the world every day due to neonatal illnesses, malnutrition, pneumonia, or diarrhea.

The U.S. Coalition for Child Survival reported the startling number of deaths as part of new study on global child health.

The organization says all of these illnesses are easily preventable. It's campaigning to drastically reduce the number of deaths with a little help from America, its people and leaders.

More Than a Statistic

The year is 2004 and in the hot desert of Sudan the body of 10-month-old Ahmed Adam lay buried beneath a pile of rocks.

"He'd been sick for some time," his mother, a Sudanese refugee, told CBC News. "We brought him to the clinic but his condition got worse. And he died this morning."

With civil war plaguing the Sudan, the baby and his mother fled to a refugee camp in eastern Chad, according to CBC news. But instead of peace, Ahmed's mother found more sorrow.

The baby's killer? Malnutrition. More than 35 percent of the children in such camps perish from malnutrition and dehydration, CBC reports.

"Diarrhea is the main cause of consultations by the refugees. In the last week, it's been increasing. We have a lot of children with dehydration, that means they lose a lot of water. And in the last month, 10 people died of diarrhea, elderly people. Three days ago, I had two of my kids die of diarrhea," Dr. Camillo Valderrama of the International Rescue Committee, told CBC News.

Move forward three years to 2007 and a similar tragedy unfolds in western and eastern Nepal. An epidemic of diarrhea has taken the lives of more than 30 children, according to the The Kathmandu Post - a local publication. Without proper medicine and skilled health workers, children kept falling dead a local resident told the Post.

'Blessed is the Man Whose Quiver is Full'

Children: Scripture says blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Yet these blessings are dwindling in number as they lose their lives largely from causes which are either preventable or treatable.

"We're not waiting for an invention, a miracle discovery or a Nobel prize in medicine to be delivered,"  Andrew Barrer, executive director for the U.S. Coalition for Child Survival, said. "We have the solution, and the solutions are working: Vitamin-A supplements and vaccinations that we take for granted in America."

So if these ailments are so treatable, what's the problem? Poverty and lack of access to healthcare surely play a large role, but another culprit is simple ignorance.

Ask most Americans - including policy-makers - what the leading cause of child deaths are around the globe and their first answer is likely to be either AIDS or malaria, according to a recent USCCS poll cited by The New York Times.

The poll revealed that 42 percent of Americans believe HIV is the biggest killer of children and 18 percent believed malaria was the most frequent killer.

"When the public finds out it's pneumonia - that it's a vaccine-preventable disease - people are surprised," Barrer said. "I've had people say to me, 'Oh Andrew, you must be wrong. Maybe it's 3,000. It can't be 30,000.'"

They Perish for Lack of Knowledge

According to the USCCS, close to 40 percent of all child fatalities occur in the first month of life.

Few are better acquainted with this reality than Odette Koffi-Brou, a mother who lost four babies during childbirth.

"New research has shown that most of the 4 million newborn babies that die every year could have been saved by training parents in some simple care practices and by making sure healthcare workers have training to help newborns with complications," USCCS said in statement on its Web site.

"I was a victim of ignorance when I was younger. I decided to become a midwife to save other children," Koffi-Brou told the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA. "It's like I've saved a thousand children for myself to replace the ones I lost."

Koufi-Brou turned her tragedy into a success story, becoming the founder of an association of midwives devoted to making maternal health care available to the poverty-stricken residents of Bardot, one of the largest shantytowns in West Africa.

She has now, according to the UNFPA, saved countless lives.

What You Can Do

Now the USCCS has teamed up with Congress to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation called the 'Global Child Survival Act.'

The bill will strengthen America's global leadership role in the fight for child survivals, develop a low-cost effective means to reduce these deaths and ensure that success stories like Koufi-Brou become more common.

So what can American's do? Get involved by calling their elected officials and urging them to sponsor the Child Survival legislation, according to the USCCS.

"It's the U.S. government's duty and the public's duty to help children around the world," Barrer said.

Barrer asks, "What could be a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving for our kids?"

For other ways you can help in the fight for global child survival, visit the U.S. Coalition for Child Survival Web site.

Sources: U.S. Coalition for Child Survival, The New York Times, Save the Children, CBC News, United Nations Population Fund

 

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Crystal Woodall

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