Ringing in a New Year

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(Host) Commentator Nils Daulaire suggests a New Year’s resolution to benefit the babies of the world.

(Daulaire) We’re all familiar with the happy symbol of the new year: a baby taking over the banner of the year from a tired old man. A fresh start.

What kind of fresh start will we see in 2004? Lots of babies, for one thing. Around the world, more than 130 million babies will be born this year – that’s equal to half the entire population of the United States. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, minds to educate, and hearts to fill with hope – rather than despair.

It’s a pretty daunting task. And we’d better get it right, since these are the citizens, producers and consumers of the global economy of the mid-21st century. Our own financial, political and even military security depends on it.

What do these babies face as they come into the world? The best off one-fifth can expect to live at least 74 years, with that figure going up every year. But the worst-off one-fifth, born in Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the poorer countries of Southeast Asia, can only expect to live 48 years – and that figure is actually dropping.

Picture this: of this year’s nursery full of babies, nearly 11 million will never even live to celebrate their fifth birthday. That’s one child dying needlessly every three seconds.

Almost all these children die of things we have the know-how and the means to prevent or treat.

Pneumonia kills three million: a short course of basic antibiotics costing twenty-five cents will save them.

Diarrhea kills two million: one or two ten-cent packets of salts called oral rehydration solution, mixed with water, can carry them through until the diarrhea stops.

Malaria kills a million: putting sleeping children under bed nets treated with insecticide, for $5 a year, will prevent most of the mosquito bites that cause malaria, and inexpensive drugs can treat most of those that slip through.

Measles vaccine, twelve cents for a single shot that provides a lifetime of protection, would save nearly another million.

Even AIDS can be prevented in infants with a one-dollar dose of medicine given to the mom at the time of labor.

And so on. It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s not that we haven’t shown this can work anywhere in the world. It’s not even second-class care: my own children benefited from these simple remedies when my family lived overseas.

No, it’s that the pennies needed to make a difference across the world, for all those 130 million babies born this year, just aren’t there. We all love our children. So do the mothers and fathers of the so-called Third World.

What a great way to start the new year: resolving to make a difference in these young lives so far away, who will make such a difference in our own lives over the decades to come. We can do it individually by supporting groups helping on the front lines, and we can do it as a nation by making sure our own United States government does the right thing, and funds it adequately.

That’s a New Year’s resolution the entire world can respect.

This is Nils Daulaire

Dr. Nils Daulaire is president of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studios in Norwich.

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