Monday, October 20, 2008

A little lesson in inequality

Every year, almost 10 million children around the world die before the age of 5. Do you know why most of them die?

If you don’t, you are not alone. If you think it’s HIV or Malaria, you agree with the majority of Americans. And you are wrong. Sixty percent of Americans incorrectly identified these illnesses as the leading causes of death for children. In actuality, malaria and HIV only account for 11%.

What is really killing kids? The simplest of things: pneumonia – 36% of child deaths; malnutrition – directly or indirectly leads to 35% of deaths, and diarrhea – 18% of deaths. Every year some two million babies die within their first month of life. That’s equivalent to all the babies born in the U.S. in a year.

The saddest thing is that most of these deaths – about 6 million each year – can be prevented through simple, cost-effective interventions like rehydration salts and antibiotics. This seems like something we as Americans should do something about, wouldn’t you say? I mean, who can argue against saving kids?

Well, do me a favor and tell that to your congressman, OK? About 4 billion dollars a year are spent on child health programs worldwide, but 12 billion dollars a year is needed if those 6 million kids are to be saved. For its part, the U.S. appropriated 450 million dollars for child health programs last year, but funding has generally stayed flat for the last 10 years.

I guess that sounds like a lot of money in these troubled times. But consider this: the U.S. government spends five billion dollars a year on HIV programs alone, and HIV only accounts for 2 million annual deaths worldwide. We have the money folks. We’re just spending it elsewhere. I read today that the Bush administration has spent a billion dollars on abstinence education despite no evidence that it works. Doubling our child survival funding each year would only cost an extra $1.50 per American resident. Imagine what we could do with an extra five dollars, or ten dollars.

I’ve seen too many sick kids in Africa, and I hate knowing that they die for such stupid reasons. Can you imagine an American kid dying of diarrhea? So I am appealing to all of you, start getting active on this issue. The U.S. Coalition for Child Survival is a great place to start for information on how to help. And there are many great organizations out there that you can donate to.