It’s something you probably didn’t notice in the news, but the UN Children’s agency (UNICEF) has announced that a lot fewer kids are dying before the age of five than did ten years ago.

Here’s a graph with the hard data via the BBC:

The drop has been all over the world, even in SubSaharan Africa.

The main reasons? Measles vaccine, breast feeding/improved child care practices, clean water, and insecticide treated mosquito nets.

Village health workers, usually local villagers given training to teach hygiene, and give simple medicine and provide WHO Rehydration fluid (similar to Pedialyte) are also credited for the drop in mortality. LINK

When we worked in Africa, we had a grant from OXFAM to fund such workers. They were chosen by the villagers themselves, with the main requirement that they be literate and willing to work. We gave them a three week course in simple first aid, with updates one day a month and a part time salary (most were farmers or housewives).
We also got a grant from Germany to build wells for clean water.

Funding often comes from many sources, and the international push behind funding these initiatives includes such unlikely people as President Bush, Bill Gates, and Ted Turner

But, like training local midwives, which I discussed in a previous essay, health care starts at the local level and works it’s way up.
One note:The list includes Vitamin A supplements, but actually this is mainly to prevent blindness, not death.

There’s a lot more to be done, of course, and merely throwing money at the problem or ordering things from the top down won’t work: It takes training and coordination with those who live in villages to obtain such results.

And it’s nice to know that, despite all the “ain’t it awful” appeals we see and hear asking for our money, that some of the money is actually saving lives.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at Hey Doc xanga blog

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