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Death Faces 240 Million Children

April 7, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Disease and malnutrition will combine to kill more than 240 million children in developing countries by the year 2000 at current child mortality rates, a new study warns.

The report, ″Child Survival: Risks and the Road to Health,″ estimates that between the years 1985 and 2000, some 244 million youngsters under age 5 will die.

Of them, 240 million deaths are expected in the less developed parts of the world. That is nearly as many people as currently live in the United States.

But meeting targets for improved child health could save 65 million of those young lives, according to the analysis prepared for the Agency for International Development.

The report by the Columbia, Md.-based Institute for Resource Development says, ″A child born in one of the high-mortality African and Asian countries today is on average 20 times more likely to die before reaching age 5 than a child born in the United States, Japan or Sweden.″

In addition, child deaths vary widely even among countries within regions, not just between developed and developing nations, said Alene Gelbard, the Institute’s deputy director of population studies.

″This is just really unjust,″ she commented in an interview. But the differences also offer a glimmer of hope, because if one nation in an area has fewer child deaths, the reasons for its success can be learned and applied elsewhere, she said.

The Institute, a research division of the Westinghouse Electric Co., published the report Monday. The report looks at infant deaths in more than 100 developing nations, and compared them with three developed nations, Sweden, Japan and the United States.

The United Nations estimates that about 2 billion babies will be born during the 15 years, 1.8 billion of them in the so-called developing world. Of the 244.6 billion under-5 children who will die at current mortality rates, 239.7 million will be from the developing nations, the study concludes.

But 65.3 million of those deaths could be prevented by meeting a series of targets for various nations to lower their infant and child mortality rates by the year 2000, the report says.

″We know a lot about what needs to be done″ to lower the rates, explained population expert Katrina Galway of the Institute’s Demographic Data for Development Project.

The immediate need is for an organized approach to the problem so that national and international policy makers can target the methods to avoid these deaths, she said.

Malnutrition and the spacing of births close together are major contributing factors, helping to weaken many youngsters until they are unable to resist disease.

Malnutrition affects as many as 40 percent of children in developing nations today, the report states, and is ″in many respects the common denominator of the disease and deprivation process that reduce child survival.″

Simple diarrhea is the biggest cause of death among infants and small children, killing most of them through dehydration, the study says.

Of the 15 million youngsters under 5 who die annually worldwide, 5 million succumb to diarrheal diseases, despite the fact that remedies are relatively easily available, Ms. Galway said.

So-called oral rehydration therapy - giving the sick child a salt-sugar solution - can prevent many of these deaths, she said.

A second major weapon in reducing childhood deaths is immunization, she said, noting that an estimated 3.5 million youngsters die annually from such preventable ills as measles, diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and tuberculosis.

Respiratory infections such as pneumonia claim another 4 million young lives annually, outranking diarrhea in some areas, the study adds. Malaria remains another of the major killers of children, perhaps contributing to as many as 1.5 million deaths.

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