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How to Change the World

Raising Awareness for Actions to Lower Child Mortality Rates

Michael Maxey


What do we know?


In the developing world, infant and child mortality continue to be critical problems that impact millions of children per year. There are environmental causes of disease (e.g., unsanitary water provoking diarrheal diseases) and communicable diseases (e.g., malaria) which kill a disproportionately high number of children. In the developed world, 7 of 10 deaths are among people over 70 years of age and are usually due to chronic disease, while in the developing world, only 2 of 10 deaths are of elderly patients. Most of the deaths in the developing world are of children, and a majority of these deaths can be prevented. Finding ways to reduce these deaths is a critical aspect of addressing global development needs where survival to contribute to the global economy must be a key objective.[i]


Why is it important?


Aside from the moral issue of the suffering and loss of human life, there is an economic price for disease and death among the most vulnerable. In sub-Saharan Africa, alone, the annual impact of malaria on economic productivity, foreign investment and trade is estimated to be $12 billion.[ii] Finding ways to limit the impact of this disease which is particularly devastating on children under 5 years of age is critical to long term development of Africa. All other aspects of demographic growth, workforce development, competitiveness and nation-building are moot if children cannot survive into adolescent and adulthood. The good news is there are proven technologies that can have an immediate impact; relatively simple techniques can be employed to significantly reduce infant and child mortality: hand-washing, pre-natal care, sanitation, and use of low cost technology (e.g., pesticide treated mosquito nets).


What can we do about it?


Through (1) creating social consensus, (2) provoking care and involvement, (3) marshalling resources, and (4) designing effective patterns of intervention, we can affect change. Different presenters provided examples of what can be done – promote democracy, “get in the game,” keep learning, etc. The message was clear that the most important thing we can do to reduce childhood mortality is to engage, to learn the issues and to advocate for support whether it is low cost HIV treatment, pesticide treated mosquito nets, or low cost pre-natal outreach. Others have shown the way, from Sharkey County, Mississippi and the Carey Christian Center cutting infant mortality by 60 percent through community outreach or Africa seeing a 50 percent reduction in malaria deaths from mosquito net use.


The key is to (1) find what works, (2) make it cheap, and (3) educate people in how to use it. The expansion of the ability to lead a thoughtfully chosen life depends on surviving childhood for the poor in developing countries. Advocacy and outreach are two critical things each of us can do through a variety of mechanisms to create positive change in the world. The moral and economic importance of becoming involved is becoming more evident as social consciousness increases and the time and means for each of us to take action is at hand.


[i] James W. McGuire, Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2010).



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