So little can save so many

Poverty kills more than 10,000 newborn babies each day. A new study says most of them can be saved with very little money and effort.

Ten million children under the age of five die every year because they are poor. They do not suffer agonizing deaths from hunger and disease because they were lazy, lacked intelligence, or didn’t try hard enough to get a job. These they die only because they are poor.

There is more to this terrible statistic, however. According to a new study published in The Lancet medical journal, about 40 percent of the ten million die in the first month of their lives, and the causes are shockingly trivial. For example, 500,000 die each year from tetanus infections and a tetanus shot costs less than 25 cents. Simply keeping premature babies warm with extra blankets would save many of them. Breast feeding and cheap antibiotics would save millions of babies. The study makes 16 recommendations, all of them cheap and relatively easy to implement. This is encouraging news on a subject usually swamped by pessimism and frustration.

It is difficult to comprehend four million babies dying each year, but the fortunate citizens of wealthy nations at least should be able to imagine the individual agony that lies behind the numbers. All those babies who died for lack of a blanket or a 25-cent injection had mothers who held them, gently kissed their cheeks and loved them every bit as much as any mother in Manhattan, Hyde Park or South Sound loves her own baby. These four million stories, repeated each year, are perhaps the greatest tragedies in all the world.

A mother, enslaved by extreme poverty, struggles to give her baby life only to watch it flicker and fade. For those people in a position to help, imagining just one of these stories may be all the motivation needed to invest a few pennies in a baby’s life. It is now clear that saving these lives is within reach, for these babies require no state-of-the-art hospitals, no major legislation. They only need a few pennies from people who care.

World News editor Guy P. Harrison is at [email protected]

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