The XX Factor

When 24,000 Kids Dying a Day is the Good News

Unicef is rightly celebrating new figures on child mortality -down below nine million a year for the first time in two decades. That’s 10,000 fewer deaths a day, says director Ann Venemen, and that’s the number that got the press-but when I heard it, all I could think was that if “10, 000 fewer” is the good news, what’s the bad?

I heard the 10,000 fewer figure on NPR while driving to a board meeting for a local museum, and as I sat there, listening to descriptions of the next capital campaign and the need to raise a few hundred thousand dollars for a shade structure in the outdoor park, I kept wondering about that second figure. I had to work a little to get the answer-24,000 kids still die every day from poverty-related, preventable causes, most from pneumonia and diarrhea.

In principle I agree with ethicist Peter Singer, who’s said that ” philanthropy for the arts or for cultural activities is, in a world like this one, morally dubious. ” In practice, I still find myself making donations that will help the less-well-off in my well-off community. I contribute to charities like our local theaters and my kids’ school for many reasons-social pressure, personal benefit, the fact that the need, or the solicitor, is staring me right in the face. I don’t manage to remember to give where it’s truly needed as often as I wish I would. I’m glad we’re celebrating 10,000 fewer deaths a day. But I need the media to remind me about the other 8.8 million kids a year who still don’t make it past their fifth birthday a lot more often.