Drop seen in fatal childhood diseases

December 21, 1993|By New York Times News Service

UNITED NATIONS -- Striking an upbeat note about its struggle to reduce infant mortality, UNICEF says "a final offensive" may now be under way against the biggest killers of small children in the world.

Its annual report, "The State of the World's Children," notes that infant deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, tetanus and whooping cough are all in retreat and that severe malnutrition is being reduced despite a 20 percent rise in the number of children under 5 in the last decade.

"Through the lens of history rather than of news, what is now happening in the developing world may come to be seen as the beginning of a final offensive against some of the oldest and most common enemies of the world's children," UNICEF says.

The report will be presented to President Clinton at a White House ceremony today by UNICEF's executive director, James P. Grant.

The advances are being made because more and more developing countries are striving to meet the child health goals set by the World Summit for Children held at the United Nations in 1990 and attended by 144 countries, the report says.

By July, 90 percent of the world's children were living in countries that had adopted or drafted national programs intended to meet the goals.

These include cutting child mortality by one-third by the end of the century, achieving 90 percent immunization coverage and insuring primary education for at least 80 percent of children.

While UNICEF emphasized progress in its press statements, the report also underscores a number of remaining threats to child welfare.

The central development problem facing the post-Cold War world is the poverty, rapid population growth and environmental degradation in developing nations, the report says.

Poverty leads to high rates of infant mortality, which encourages overpopulation. This in turn leads to unsustainable human pressure on land and other natural resources, bringing even greater poverty. Reversing that spiral must be the world's top priority, UNICEF says.

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