Causes of Child Deaths Hiding in Plain Sight

New Save the Children and UNICEF Reports reveal how financial mismanagement and environmental insensitivity led to the deaths of four million children.

Had the international community been more careful about seemingly unrelated topics as financial planning and climate change, four million dead children would be alive today, according to new simultaneously released reports from Save the Children and UNICEF. Public health insiders know that everything—from policy to architecture to urban planning to education and employment—affects your health, but the new reports declare it outright.

A Professor by the name of Geoffrey Rose, a pioneer in the study of the social determinants of health, is the one who, in the 1950s, pulled all the sociological and medical facts together to reveal that "upstream" factors greatly impact "downstream" health factors—upstream being policy decisions, media content, educational planning, and transportation design and downstream being individual and population health consequences. Poor urban planning leads to fewer exercise options and less walkable streets. A policy choice about the location of a new park or community center can influence crime and safety levels and thus life expectancy in certain neighborhoods.

Those are just a few examples, but when we consider such linkages on a larger scale, say in the case of the world's millions of poor children, we begin to deal with the very in-your-face reality that nothing occurs in isolation. There's a reason why entire public health programs revolve around sociology and policy and education, such as Harvard's Society, Human Development and Health Master's Degree (full disclosure: I am a graduate of this program) or Columbia's Sociomedical Sciences. With researchers innovating up a storm as to what causes what and how decisions in Washington D.C. affect the health of children in Nepal, we ought to listen, respond, and do our part to save those kids.

"High food prices in 2008 and 2009 and falling real household incomes have reduced consumer purchasing power; poor consumers have less money to spend on food," the UNICEF report noted. "Now a child born in sub-Saharan Africa faces an under-five mortality rate that is 1.9 times higher than in South Asia, 6.3 times higher than in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 24 times higher than in the industrialised nations."

In light of the above, UNICEF and Save the Children, just days before the next UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, have announced that their resources will now be focused on grassroots, on-the-ground community health clinics and services and female health workers; less resources will be invested in modern, state-of-the-art hospitals and more will be invested in basic, life-saving drugs, clinics, and personnel.

 

[Photos by Jenara Nerenberg]

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