The lives of an estimated 2 million children a year are now being saved by a combination of immunizations and oral rehydration therapy (ORT), according to the annual report on the State of the World's Children issued by the United Nations Children's Fund.
However, the UNICEF report notes that the "quiet carnage" of malnutrition and infection still kills more than 250,000 children a week.
ORT is a simple, cheap package of salts and sugar that, when mixed with water, can provide a lifesaving treatment for the kind of pervasive diarrheal diseases that kill 4 million children a year. Easy to distribute and easy to administer, it only reaches about 20 percent of the children who need it.
Sam Harris, director of RESULTS, a citizens' anti-hunger organization, said in conjunction with the issuance of the UNICEF report that it is "really scandalous that ORT, a known remedy heralded 10 years ago and costing only pennies a dose," does not reach 80 percent of those who need it.
He also noted that 4,000 children around
the world still contract polio every week. In this country, he said, polio is so far removed from our reality that "when I speak around the country, most people under 30 can't tell me who Jonas Salk is." (Salk developed one of the two polio vaccines, virtually wiping out the paralytic disease in this country.)
The UNICEF report called immunization the "success story of this decade," pointing out that the vaccination of 50 percent of Third World children against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough and 40 percent against measles saved some 1.3 million lives. Ten years ago, fewer than 5 percent of infants in developing countries were vaccinated.