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Children: Will We ever get it right?" Family Forum Lecture by William H. Foege

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By April Bogle
10/27/03

Eighty percent of the world's population is sick, 3,000 children die every two and one-half hours every day around the world, and the United States spends just $1 on children under 18 for every $12 spent on people over the age of 65, according to William H. Foege, Presidential Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Emory, and fellow and advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"What's happened to children and health around the world is unbelievable improvement, unbelievable inequities," said Foege, speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 who gathered to hear his talk, "Children: Will We Ever Get it Right?", Oct. 27 at the Emory University's School of Law. Martin E. Marty, Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Religious Studies at Emory, was the respondent.

Foege painted a gruesome picture of a child in Africa who suffered from diseases caused by 6 separate parasites. "This poor child was already facing more obstacles in six short years than most of us see in 75 years. The combined insult of six parasites finally led to a spiraling down, and they buried yet another African child. Is it any surprise that people in Africa become fatalists?"

Foege chastised the United States for contributing to the health problems in Africa, where the number of orphans has reached 13 million. "The U.S. has exported more death and disease through tobacco and arms to neutralize all of our aid to Africa. We have a world of hundreds of millions who are not better off even though we have vaccines, drugs, computers and even an alphabet."

And he said Americans should be "ashamed of how we respond."

"We wrap ourselves in a flag and become more patriotic. Einstein told us that nationalism is an infantile disease," he said.

Foege said two things prevent us from improving global health: applying what we know and inadequate resource allocation. "For all our rhetoric on prevention and children, it's not where we put our money. Resource allocation defines our real ethics," he said.

"The money spent on the Iraq war and reconstruction, if applied to children born this year in this country, would provide an individual trust fund of $40,000 for every child born," he continued.

Poverty creates additional health problems, according to Foege. "Every gradation down in income leads to an increase in health problems. It's the slavery of our day, and every person in this room is a master. The poor actually subsidize you. The reason you can get fast food at a low price is because people are working a minimum wage to subsidize your meal."

To address the issues of health inequities and poverty, Foege urged the audience to look at the positive things that can be done to prepare future generations, rather than focus on pathologies that develop from lack of vision.

"We can't erase abuse, but we can prevent it," he said.

An example: create an educational/parenting program that parents join at the conception of their new baby. If followed until the child starts school, the program provides a one-year educational trust fund, which grows to a four-year fund if the child participates in enriching activities, such as music, scouts, and second language study.

"Constantly raise the question, what's the best decision for 500 years from now? Future generations will be grateful if in the year 2003, the politicians, economists, and lawyers of the world finally invested adequately in children.

"There's a day when the investment in children passes a point of no return, and all children will benefit. And that day might as well be today," he concluded.
The CISR, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, is engaged in a three-year study on "The Child in Law, Religion and Society." The project is bringing together research of two dozen senior faculty from across the Emory campus to focus on children in relation to a host of social issues. The Foege presentation was the third in a four-part Family Forum Series sponsored by the CISR. All presentations are available as webcasts at www.law.emory.edu/cslr.

The remaining program:

"Where Do the Children Live?" Millard Fuller, Founder and President of Habitat for Humanity International and Martin E. Marty
: Frank Alexander, Professor of Law, Emory University
6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.

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