Pamela Perkins
May 7, 2008
The Commercial Appeal

Nearly 27,000 infants and children under age 5 around the world die daily - or almost 10 million a year - for reasons as preventable as keeping an infant's head warm.

That's because more than 200 million infants and children worldwide don't get basic health care that also includes antibiotics to treat pneumonia and diarrhea. And poorer children are most at risk, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S.-based global humanitarian group Save the Children.

The ninth annual "State of the World's Mothers" report includes recommendations such as training and equipping volunteer community health workers who can interact with the world's poorest and hardest-to-reach communities. Such low-cost measures could save more than 6 million of the 9.7 million children who die each year from easily preventable or treatable causes.

Saving a young one's life also can be as easy as getting 8- to 10-year-old students to knit caps for infants. That's why Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. joined former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist at Lamplighter Montessori School in Cordova Tuesday for the only U.S. event to launch the report's release.

Frist, a heart surgeon and chairman of the global group's "Survive to 5" campaign, said he chose to have the event in Shelby County because of its Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, which Wharton and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen started in 2006.

The county has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation, with 11.5 of every 1,000 babies dying within the first year.

Frist said he picked Lamplighter for the event because of the example the children set by knitting 12 caps and sending them to Save The Children in 2006. He showed Lamplighter students a video of him putting one of the estimated 280,000 knit caps sent to the group on a baby in Bangladesh.

Frist told them how Save the Children helps people with a range of life-saving practices from teaching simple hygiene to providing vitamins and vaccinations.

"A lot of people in the world don't have access to soap," he said.

Wharton said, "Save the Children is doing on an international level what we're trying to do here in Memphis, Tennessee."

Frist and Wharton said having the event at the school and in Shelby County represented the "oneness of humanity" in the worldwide fight against preventable childhood deaths.

"The loss of a child's life is the loss of a child's life anywhere. Children are so precious and totally helpless," Wharton said. "There's something everybody can do in the community. The same (measures) that work in Bangladesh work in Boxtown."

Other recommendations include boosting health care systems with more funding and government help. To see the report, visit savethechildren.org.