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Saving Millions of Children's Lives Is Possible

Better food, water, sanitation would make all the difference, report finds

MONDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Millions of childrens lives could be saved by a coordinated global effort to improve nutrition and provide clean water, better sanitation and cleaner household fuels in underdeveloped countries, a new study finds.

Each year, such an endeavor would spare the lives of almost 1.5 million children in sub-Saharan Africa, 800,000 children in South Asia and nearly 50,000 children in Latin America and the Caribbean, concluded the report, which is published in the Oct. 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Targeting the interventions to the poor would maximize the number of lives saved, said study co-author Dr. Majid Ezzati, an associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.

"Everyone needs clean water and good nutrition," Ezzati said. "It's not that the rich don't need it but that the poor end of the income spectrum has so many problems that dealing with any one of them can have many benefits."

This week's issue of the journal is devoted to reports on poverty and human development. Its publication is part of an effort by more than 200 journals worldwide to publish papers on these global issues -- an effort launched by the Council of Science Editors and sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ezzati and his colleagues gathered data to determine whether it might be possible to achieve the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals for better health.

Using data gathered by the World Health Organization and national organizations, they determined that an estimated 56 percent of the children in Latin America and the Caribbean, 87 percent in South Asia, and 83 percent in sub-Saharan Africa are exposed to preventable health risks linked to unsafe nutrition, water, sanitation and fuels.

The report does not include an estimate of the cost of eliminating such risks, however. "That would take another complete study," Ezzati said. This study does advocate getting better results from any money being spent now through improved cooperation and coordination.

"There already is some work being done, one piece at a time," Ezzati said. "What we argue is that packaging it better and aiming it at the poor will improve results."

In a statement, NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, said, "The scope and diversity of these critical research projects illustrate the complexity of today's major global health challenges that require multidisciplinary approaches."

Other, related reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and leading journals include:

  • A study showing that successful programs for treating HIV/AIDS generate a continuing need for more personnel and resources.
  • A program to deliver information on health and social services to people living in rural India.
  • A study showing a good outcome for HIV-infected African children who get adequate pediatric care -- if intervention starts early.
  • Outreach efforts to include surgery in the care offered by primary physicians in Zimbabwe and rural China.
  • Successful training of Chinese family doctors to perform cataract surgery.

More information

Presentations on the papers will be Webcast live on Monday and archived by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Majid Ezzati, M.D., associate professor, international health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Oct. 24/31, 2007, Journal of the American Medical Association

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