Editorial Board
May 11, 2008
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In this country and most of the world, preserving the health of mothers and their children requires more than a greeting card. It will take renewed commitment to basic health care practices and fairness.

Sad to say, the welfare of the youngest children and their mothers depends far too much on personal wealth. In its State of the World's Mothers 2008 report, Save the Children found huge problems continue in health care for children and mothers in many poor lands. Substantial disparities also occur within much of the developed world, including in Washington and most U.S. states.

In these early years of the 21st century, one of four children doesn't live to his fifth birthday in Afghanistan, Angola, Niger and Sierra Leone. All told, about 9.7 million children die annually before age 5.

With universal access to basic lifesaving interventions, such as rehydration for diarrhea and treatment of pneumonia, childhood deaths could be reduced by nearly two-thirds.

In a teleconference, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist urged passage of the bipartisan Global Child Survival Act on moral grounds as well as to improve U.S. standing and to meet public expectations. The bill would authorize $5.9 billion to expand child and maternal health care, require a U.S. strategy for sustaining improvements and coordinate scattered federal programs through an interagency task force.

The tie between poverty and poor health is starkest in the Third World, but it carries into other countries. As with Roma children in most of Europe, Aboriginal infants in Australia and Maori youngsters in New Zealand, minority and poor kids in this country face greater risks.

U.S. child mortality rates are twice as high as in France, Italy and Japan. Even in the handful of U.S. states, including Washington, where overall rates are close to those countries, black infants generally are twice as likely to die as whites. We and the rest of the world can do better, every day.