WOULD YOU BELIEVE good news from Appalachia? We have in mind the positive information contained in the report, "The State of the Child in Appalachia," prepared by the Appalachian Child Care Conference Planning Committee (with assistance from the Appalachian Regional Commission). It notes, among other things, that a significant number of public programs begun in the last 10 years are working well. These include such child health programs as one that transports by helicopter sick newborn infants from outlying hollows to the University of Tennessee hospital in Knoxville; infant death by respiratory crisis has been reduced by 95 per cent. In West Virginia, the state's department of health has established a delivery system that has led to 97 per cent of all first-graders being fully immunized. In nine counties of north Georgia, preschool programs serving 250 children are now in operation.
It is true, as the report concludes, that "programs like these serve as models for the rest of the nation." But it is, of course, still precarious to be a child in Appalachia. In the central part of the region, intestinal parasites infect an estimated 50 per cent of the children. In 1973, Appalachia had a six per cent higher mortality rate than the rest of the nation, which by itself ranked 14th among the industrial countries. The majority of Appalachia's 397 counties have no pediatrician, and many have only one.
The authors of the report make a number of sensible recommendations.They urge that officials begin to understand the need for "early intervention" --that the delivery of health services to children should begin before the age of two. They suggest that the "extreme dearth of statistics and an absence of a data base" need to be corrected, for the obvious reason that sensible policy can hardly be formulated without facts. They call for parent advisory councils to be a part of the programs dealing with children.
Overall, the message that comes through after reading the report is that the 1970s are seeing the awakening of Appalachia from within. This was not so much the case in 1960s when the region was "discovered" by outsiders, it is because local people are discovering their own resourcefulness. That doesn't make success against the old abuses any easier, but it does make an occasional victory more likely.