Healthier economies make for healthier kids

UNICEF

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL:
The world's children are surviving at record rates. The United Nations' Childrens' Fund, UNICEF, reported today that fewer than 10 million children died in 2005 -- compared with 20 million in 1960. This is mostly due to cheap public health measures, but also, as Helen Palmer reports from the health desk at WGBH, to improving economies in parts of the developing world.


Helen Palmer: UNICEF launched a campaign to save children's lives 25 years ago -- through simple interventions. The fund pushed widespread vaccinations and treatments for diarrhea. They also encouraged breast feeding, rather than bottles, and delivered clean water. Caryl Stern of the US Fund for UNICEF says these interventions work. But they're more succesful in some countries than others.

Caryl Stern: The stronger the economy, the stronger the support, the stronger our ability to sustain a program.

Michael Kramer teaches International Development at Harvard. He says improving economies are vitally important to save kids lives.

Michael Kramer: One factor is the tremendous economic growth in China and to a lesser extent in India. As the societies get richer, that allows households to afford better care for their children and potentially allows government to make bigger investments.

Kramer says as economies improve, women have fewer children, they can feed them better, and educate them better. But he warns that these improvements aren't automatic -- countries must choose to support and accept these international programs. Kramer says India and China, as well as Latin America and some places in Africa have done that. UNICEF's Caryl Stern stresses how cheap things like mosquito nets and clean water are.

Stern: One dollar provides clean drinking water to 40 people for a day -- or to one child for 40 days... you know, depending on how you want to base the equation.

Even more children should survive as new vaccines for pneumonia and diarrhea are more widely available , and groups like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria and the Gates Foundation expand their reach. Part of it is raising awareness. Mosquito nets alone could save he lives of one million kids every year.

I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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