What's in a name? Maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars, if the name is UNICEF and it gets confused with UNESCO. In the last couple of years, since rumors started circulating that the United States might withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and particularly now that both the United States and Great Britain have announced their intention to quit that highly politicized body, UNICEF -- the U.N. Children's Fund -- has been losing contributions.
"I can't prove it, and it's very difficult to quantify," says James Sheffield, president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, "but there's no doubt at all that the confusion has hurt us very badly. I get it at parties, over dinner with friends, in phone calls all the time. People ask me how I can expect them to contribute to an organization that my government opposes."
For the record: UNESCO, chartered in 1946 to promote peace by fostering international collaboration in educational, scientific and cultural affairs, had increasingly become the captive of Third World pro-communist forces and a platform for attacking the United States, its biggest financial backer.
UNICEF (which retains the initials of the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund, although it is now officially the U.N. Children's Fund) is well respected even by those who think the U.N. itself is fundamentally worthless. Chartered to provide emergency help to the children of postwar Europe, it now does its child-health and welfare work in 115 developing countries. And it does it at bargain basement rates.
Its main activity in recent years has gone under the acronym of GOBI: Growth monitoring of children, as a way of detecting early signs of serious health problems; oral rehydration, described by the British medical journal, Lancet, as the most significant breakthrough of the century for its role in preventing the severe diarrhea that claims the lives of so many Third World infants; the promotion of breast-feeding -- including a successful campaign against the aggressive marketing of infant formula in developing countries -- as a means of promoting natural immunity against disease, and a program of universal immunization.
Some $62 million of UNICEF's $333 million annual budget comes from government and private sources in the United States. It is the private contributions, running at some $8 million a year, that Sheffield says are threatened by the confusion with UNESCO. He said it's impossible to know how badly the fund has been hurt because contributions have been rising, due to the popularity of the GOBI programs, "but I'm sure it would be rising a lot faster but for the confusion in our names."
The closest thing to a bad rap against UNICEF may be the criticism that undertaking programs that, by its own estimates, could cut the Third World infant mortality rate in half over the next 10 to 15 years, before tackling the problem of Third World birth control, merely postpones catastrophe. And even that criticism is largely misguided. As Sheffield notes, the surest way of inducing people to have fewer babies is to increase the survival chances of the children they do have.