- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Think about 1960, and the enormous progress made since then. And then consider this: In sub-Saharan Africa today, twice as many children under 5 die each year than in 1960, and more than 40 million children are still not in school.

In 45 years, technological advances have changed the face of civilization, bringing people, resources and ideas together as never before. At no other time in history have we been in a position to galvanize people across continents to act together for change. But despite the enormous progress for many, most children in Africa have yet to benefit.

Today, commemorated by many across the world as the Day of the African Child, the facts paint a harsh picture of life and death for Africa’s children. Africa has only 10 percent of the world’s population, but 40 percent of childhood deaths. Almost 16 million African children have been orphaned by AIDS.

Yet, even in Africa, preventable or treatable diseases, like pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and measles, are still a greater threat to the health of children than HIV/AIDS. But far too little is done to increase the access of Africa’s children to low-cost, lifesaving services. Proven, low-cost immunizations, antibiotics and antimalarials, oral rehydration therapy and improved breastfeeding practices could save most of the lost lives.

With basic education, enormous gains can be made. As the number of girls educated increases, mortality rates for mothers and children fall. Educated mothers are more likely to have their children vaccinated, promote healthful preventive practices and send all their children to school. In many ways, education is a “social vaccine,” protecting children against disease and improving their chances of escaping poverty.

Despite the challenges, we know investments in basic health and education can make a difference — and effectively address these threats to the future well-being of Africa’s children. In southern Africa, for example, an enormously successful immunization campaign has virtually eliminated measles as a cause of death among children under 5. Vitamin A coverage across sub-Saharan Africa has increased dramatically over the last few years, with more than 90 percent of children reached in countries such as Ghana, Gambia and Togo.

In Guinea, through strong local leadership and donor support, children attending school have more than doubled since 1990, when only 28 percent were enrolled in primary school and only 19 percent of those were girls. Today, 77 percent of children are enrolled and two-thirds are girls. This is a major step forward for the girls getting an education and for their countries as they will be at the vanguard of change.

The African Child should be part of everyone’s mission, and not just today. The Bush administration’s support of debt relief for select African countries and promise of $674 million for famine relief are highly commendable. However, to further spur growth and prosperity in Africa, robust investments in basic health and education programs are urgently needed for the continent’s children. We urge President Bush to put forth a plan at the G-8 Summit in July that demonstrates U.S. commitment to improving the lives of Africa’s children. The plan should address not only short-term humanitarian needs but also commit the leadership and financial resources needed to bring about long-term improvements in child health, education and nutrition. Children’s lives are truly in the balance.

The Day of the African Child is just one day. But, tragically, on this day as on any other day, more than 12,000 African children will die, mostly from preventable causes, and 40 million children will be denied the education needed to thrive in the global community. This is a moral imperative like no other.

Carolyn Bartholomew is executive director of the Basic Education Coalition (www.BasicEd.org) David Oot is chairman of the U.S. Coalition for Child Survival (www.child-survival.org) and director of health for Save the Children.


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