Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shona Tovah!

And it will be a somewhat happier new year for many families, because UNICEF today reported continued progress on reducing child mortality around the world. Well, most of the world, but we'll get to that in a second.

UNICEF is making a big deal out of the "milestone" that deaths of children under 5 have fallen below ten million. Of course that's an arbitrary number that only seems important to us because we have ten fingers and so use a base 10 numbering system. Nevertheless, the continuing trend in the right direction is encouraging, and for more than just the obvious reasons. In the long run, this will actually reduce global population growth and help raise the status of women. Where child deaths are very common, people have extra children as insurance, and of course women have more pregnancies. When children can be expected to live, families can invest more in each child, and women have more years free of childbearing and care of very young children. So ultimately, this doesn't mean more mouths to feed.

There are several reasons for this progress: near eradication of polio, extensive immunization for measles and other childhood diseases, insecticide treated bed nets to prevent malaria, vitamin A supplementation, the successful campaign against Nestle corporation's promotion of formula feeding, and rising standards of living for many people, particularly in China and India. In much of the world, however, there has been little or no progress on reducing poverty or providing basic infrastructure such as clean water, so we are benefitting to a large extent from technical fixes. As I say, making these technical fixes can help reduce poverty in the long run, but that hasn't really started to happen yet.

The bad news is in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV and continued profound poverty have led to negative trends; and, although UNICEF doesn't mention it, Iraq. These statistics do not reflect the grim situation in central Iraq at all, as far as I can tell.

We still have a long way to go to meet the Millenium Development goal, which would get the toll to under 5 million. Will this be as important to the Right to Lifers as saving the blastocysts? It hasn't been so far.


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