Say it with penicillin

To save the children, help their mothers, a report says.

Published May 9, 2007 1:53AM (EDT)

Just because we traditionally fete our mothers each May with flowers and eggs Florentine doesn't mean that we, as a country, treat them so well. In fact, according to Save the Children's 2007 State of the World's Mothers report -- released yesterday -- when it comes to factors such as life expectancy and maternity leave, among developed countries the U.S. ranks 26th, 10 spots beneath Slovenia. (Mississippi can't be helping.)

But it's not all about us. Guess where the child mortality rate has shot up 150 percent -- more than in any other country -- since 1990? (Hint: Actually, it is kind of about us.) Yep: Iraq. To be sure, things were bad before we showed up. But since 2003, "electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions" in Iraq, says the report, which goes on to offer this grim tally: In 2005, 122,000 Iraqi children (one in eight!) died before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half were newborns. (And then there were the 17-year-olds.)

Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Tanzania and Madagascar, however, have shown that "political will and social commitment matter more than national wealth when it comes to saving the lives of children," says the report. "These countries have invested in better health care for mothers, better nutrition for children, and lifesaving health care services to prevent and treat deadly diseases." While Malawi, for example, has a per capita gross national income of $650 (approximately 54 orders of eggs Florentine), it has logged a 43 percent drop in mortality for kids under 5. How? Common-sense stuff like distributing nets that protect children from malarial mosquitoes. Bangladesh, for its part -- along with Egypt, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines, has successfully focused, ahem, on promoting family planning.

But the success stories are only bright spots in a still-dark landscape. "Much of the momentum behind the child survival revolution has now been lost, and gains achieved in the 1980s and early 1990s have slowed or reversed," the report says. Some 28,000 children are still dying every day. That's 28,000. Every day. "[Seventy-five] years of field experience has taught us that the quality of children's lives depends on the health, security and well-being of their mothers," says Save the Children (which really shouldn't need to back up that assertion with "field experience"). "Providing mothers with access to education, economic opportunities and maternal and child health care, including family planning, gives mothers and their children the best chance to survive and thrive." So if you're inspired this Sunday, perhaps eggs with a side of largess?

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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