Health for All Children

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Is health for all children an achievable goal?

The world’s children have rights to health which are enshrined in international law. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Articles 6 and 24 pertain to the rights of children to life, survival and development, enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health and facilities for the treatment of illness and the rehabilitation of health (Block 4, p.94). However, every year throughout the world vast numbers of children suffer ill health and die. Nearly 11 million children still die each year before their fifth birthday, often from readily preventable causes. An estimated 150 million children are malnourished (UNICEF 2001) (Block 4, p.94.) What follows is an exploration of the causes and treatments of ill health looking at the major challenges of poverty, inequality, culture and gender, and the social and political dimensions of such matters. The effectiveness or otherwise of international health intervention programmes is analysed and a measure of the progress made so far and the possibility of health for the world’s children becoming a realistic goal is discussed.

Health is a culturally constructed concept, a collection of ideas and beliefs gathered from our experiences of living within a family, community and wider society. It is recognised by health professionals, theorists and researchers that being healthy means different things to different people. When considering matters of health it needs to be understood that health and disease are complex terms that are more than just a matter of genetics. Health is influenced by personal, cultural, social, economic and political circumstances. The definition of the term health as used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 1948 is as follows: ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. (WHO, 2009). The WHO definition promotes an holistic view of health that has been criticised for being idealistic and difficult to put into practice. What is important about this definition is that it is a positive interpretation that implies that health for all is something that can be achieved. Certainly this definition has aided thinking around health as more than simply the absence of infirmity and emphasises a social dimension. Globalisation, economics, adverse living conditions, the lack of availability of primary health care, differing social practices and cultural notions of health are all factors that impact on the health of people. These factors present both challenges and opportunities for the world regarding the possibility of achieving health for all children.

Medical advancements in the latter half of the twentieth century has seen most notably the development of antibiotics, vitamins, vaccinations for serious infectious diseases such as Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Chicken Pox, to name but a few, along with a vaccination that eradicated Small Pox. One advantage of globalisation is the increasing awareness of the plight of children in developing countries which has marshalled medical intervention and has resulted in a drastic decrease in child and young people’s mortality rates. However, despite advancements in medical technology, the availability of health treatments has not guaranteed the eradication of some preventable and curable illnesses (for example, Diarrhoea). Diarrhoea can be treated very effectively with a low cost intervention. Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) prevent dehydration which is the cause of deaths amongst children with diarrhoea. However, in studies of the Huli people in Papua New Guinea it was noted that although at first the mortality rate from diarrhoea fell as a result of the ORS intervention programme, the improvements were not sustained and the Huli people became dissatisfied with the treatment. The Huli people desired a treatment that would address the symptoms of diarrhoea: dry up the...
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