A new study looking at global trends in child mortaility pinpointed accidents as the killers of 830,000 children worldwide each year. And in a way, that’s the good news: accidents, it turns out, are at least potentially preventable, and on a small scale, unlike the bigger child-killers such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
The report, authored by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, looked at trends across different countries and regions, and compared by age and gender. What it finds is that while 95% of accidents befall children in countries that aren’t poor, 40% of accidental deaths occur in the poorest countries — the implications in terms of first-aid and healthcare systems are inescapble.
Even more compelling, perhaps, are the lessons to be gained in terms of prevention. While the leading causes of infant death are disease-related, as children grow older two types of accidents — car crashes and drowning — rise to near the top of the list. Changes in speed limits, car seats and seatbelts, and even road signage could have a drastic and immediate effect on these numbers. As for drowning, simply mandating that children learn to swim was enough to save thousands in Sweden, where swimming lessons were among a host of public policy iniatives that has cut that country’s accidental death rate in children by more than 80% in forty years. Such a tiny improvement as child-proof caps on kerosene bottles would save an estimated 5,000 children a year.
With all the worry that American parents tend to put into dangers that are statistically irrelevant — stranger abduction, for instance, or Internet prostitution rings — maybe we’d all be better off pushing for the small but significant changes that can really save lives. While your own community may offer swimming pools and lessons, it’s likely your cross-town poor neighbors don’t have the same kind of access. Supporting politicans who pledge to even the playing field for all our kids is a good start (and those UNICEF boxes at Halloween, hokey as they may appear, start to seem downright heroic).
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