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Environment, Nutrition, Poverty Impact Childhood Mortality

The World Health Organization reports that at least ten million children under the age of five die every year. And a new international study of childhood mortality confirms that children would live longer if they had better diets, cleaner sanitation and safer water. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on the report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

It sounds like an obvious conclusion: children can live longer if they are given a balanced diet, access to clean air, safe water and sanitation.

But that is a difficult goal to achieve for many poor families living in developing countries. Children under the age of five are among the most vulnerable.

A study of 42 countries has focused on the placement of resources needed to dramatically reduce the number of young children dying from poor nutrition or environmental causes.

Majid Ezzati of the Harvard University School of Public Health is an author of the study, published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association says, "In three regions of the world, in Latin America, in sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia, we would be able to save well more than two million child deaths per year."

Ezzati and his colleagues found that child deaths could be cut yearly by 14 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, by 24 percent in South Asia and by 31 percent in sub-Saharan Africa -- if money and resources were directly aimed at the poorest of the poor. Ezzati explains what is needed, "What we are asking in this is not necessarily more resources for this, but better packaging of those resources and better delivery of it, and better monitoring and evaluation of who is receiving them."

The Harvard researchers compiled data from these three regions of the world. They looked at economic status, water and sanitation conditions, even fuels used in cooking and maintaining the household.

In the year 2000, the United Nations set goals to reduce poverty and improve the ability of poor nations to feed and sustain their people by the year 2015. But world health experts are now concerned that some countries may not achieve these target rates by that time.

The release of this study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is part of a collaboration of 200 medical and scientific journals to increase worldwide awareness of the link between poverty and human development.

Video courtesy of The Journal of the American Medical Association