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Parents don't always know best.

More children in Asia and Africa die from their parents' ignorance about how and when to wean them than die from famine, according to a new study on factors affecting child health by the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute. Similarly, the report says, more children die because of their parents" ignorance in managing diarrhea than because of epidemics. In fact, says William Chandler, the study's author, roughly two-thirds of the 17 million children who die annually from the effects of poor nutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, tetanus and several childhood diseases--mostly in the poorest, developing countries--might have been saved if their parents had received a better basic education, access to primary health care (including low-cost vaccinations against childhood diseases), guidance in family planning and better agricultural tools.

For example, though weaning should begin by the time a child is 6 or 7 months old, Chandler notes that in Africa many women wait until the child is 18 months or older. Then, at weaning, many of these children receive only adult food that is hard to chew or that offers insufficient nourishment. He says the resulting malnutrition each year kills 10 times as many children as does famine.

Spacing and timing of pregnancies is also an important factor in infant survival, and one where family planning would offer the greatest benefit, Chandler says. Data he cites suggest that avoiding age-related high-risk pregnancies--those in women under 20 or over 35--would reduce infant mortality 5 percent. Maintaining an interval of at least two years between births might reduce infant mortality by 11 percent, he says.

Chandler also points to a relationship between numbers of births and infant mortality. Pan American Health Organization data from El Salvador, for instance, show that the infant mortality rate among third births there is only about half that for fourth births. Depletion of a mother's nutritional reserves and overall health are generally held as the reason for higher risks associated with these later births and short intervals between births.

According to Chandler, the investment necessary to protect those children at highest risk in the developing world is relatively low considering the numbers of individuals involved. For example, extending primary education to the 100 million children who now lack it would cost $5 billion per year, he says. Extending primary health care, family planning guidance, clean water and sanitation to the world's 1.5 billion poorest would cost another $35 billion to $50 billion a year. Finally, he estimates that providing agricultural loans for 150 million subsistence farmers could cost $5 billion to $10 billion annually. However, most countries where the investments are needed most--such as Africa--can also least afford to make them. That's why Chandler believes the money must come primarily from developed countries like the United States.
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Title Annotation:children dying in Asia and Africa from ignorance about how to wean them
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 6, 1985
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