Why Do Millions of Children Have to Die?

It is fitting that following my previous post on the growth in the global millionaire community, I decide to reflect on the moral travesty that is child mortality. I say moral because it is a problem that need not still exist to the degree that it does, and that only persists because our global economic system are not sufficiently guided by ethical principles.

Historically, around 43 percent of children died before the age of five; as fairly recently as the 19th century, every second or third child would perish, even in relatively developed Western countries. Although child mortality has declined rapidly over recent decades — down to 4.3 percent globally, compared to 8 percent in 2000 and 18 percent in 1960 — it is still far higher than it should be.

Nowadays, anywhere from 6 to 9 million children die before their fifth birthday, and nearly half of them die within a month of their birth. (This does not include millions more that die before adulthood.) About 42 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, account for 90 percent of these deaths. Two-thirds of these children die from causes that are easily preventable, namely diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, and malaria.

For example, Vitamin A supplementation provided by UNICEF saved an estimated 2.3 million lives between 1999 and 2004, at the cost of merely two cents for each capsule and given two to three times a year. A 2008 UNICEF study estimated that one million child deaths could be prevented annually at a cost of $1 billion per year — an average of just $1,000 for each child.

At a time when literally trillions of dollars are sloshing around the global financial system — and in which the richest denizens alone gained about $1 trillion in wealth last year — the fact that so many easily avoidable deaths persist is appalling. There is no shortage of verifiably effective aid agencies, NGOs, and charities that can and do save lives, provided they actually get the funding. What is stopping the world from parting with twelve figures — a relative drop in the bucket in the global economy — most of which is idle anyway. It is certainly not a matter means.

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