Child mortality around the world is at its lowest since the U.N. began recording such figures (1960). It fell below the 10 million mark.

That is sad in itself – that it is having 9.7 million children die as opposed to 10 million which makes us believe we have achieved something grand.

Now, for the real saddest part: a mosquito net, a vitamin A pill per year, breastfeeding education and a vaccination is perhaps all it would have taken to ensure that many of those 9.7 million did not die last year.

A Canadian-funded grassroots pilot project in several West African countries demonstrated this simple formula cut child mortality rates by 20%.

Stephanie Nolen has a comprehensive story on this in the Globe and Mail: Simple as That: Child Mortality is at a Record Low. She follows health worker, Alfred Malunga, on his rounds of 16 villages/communities in Malawi as he distributes mosquito nets (staving off malaria – one of the biggest killer of children around the world), giving vaccinations and get this, handing out a capsule of vitamin A per child per year (sometimes twice a year) because this is “enough to boost their immune systems so that if they do [get ill], they are much less likely to die”.

One or 2 vitamin A pills a year? A $2 mosquito net per family? Telling women to solely breastfeed for 6 months? And a vaccination? This is all it took for Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, to cut child death rates by a third in such a short time?

Well, also the fact that Alfred Malunga is doing his job. As in: he gets paid ($36/month) to be a health worker. Malawi is one of a few countries which pays people like Malunga to do the work of educating, tracking and being the friendly, approachable face of a nation’s health system for villagers in rural and remote areas. Other countries rely on volunteers.

So if this is all it takes, why is it not being done more? According to the director of preventive health in Malawi, Habib Somanje, donor nations do not consider preventive healthcare as “exciting” as building new clinics and other curative initiatives.

So we need to get excited about this:

Mosquito Net + ONE Vitamin A pill + Vaccinations + Breastfeeding for 6 months (+the dignity of having a paid health worker job) = Less Children Dead

Looking at the picture below, I’m “excited”. Sadly so.

baby.jpg

UNICEF attributed the gains [in cutting child mortality] to the widespread adoption of basic health measures, including early and exclusive breast feeding, measles immunization, Vitamin A supplements and use of insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.”

Agence France-Presse

People are always looking for silver bullets – a new technology, a new intervention, a new discovery. What we’ve learned is that the focus in child health needs to be less on finding a new silver bullet…and much more on delivering at scale these things that we know work.”

Dr. Peter Salama, chief medical officer, UNICEF

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