Contraception and Infant Mortality

Putting the first and last paragraphs of this New York Times story next to each other is rather illuminating:

More than four million newborns worldwide die each year in their first month of life, comparable to the number of babies born in the United States annually, Save the Children reported Monday. …

Another way to reduce deaths is to give women access to modern contraceptives, the group said. Birth control, it said, allows enough time between births to preserve the mother’s health and reduce the likelihood that their babies are born with low birth weights.

Yet another reason to oppose the right’s ongoing war on contraceptives (as if people needed another). The article also notes that many of those 4 million infants die because of a lack of inexpensive medical items—sterile blades, or antibiotics and knit caps to treat pneumonia. Now lots of critics are fond of saying that foreign aid “doesn’t work,” but it’s fairly obvious here that there are extraordinarily simple things that can save a lot of lives very cheaply. Knit caps. Sterile blades. Of course it would work.

But wealthy countries remain stingy. The Bush administration cut USAID’s maternal and health programs from $356 million last year to $323 million this year. That’s 0.0001 of all federal spending, and it still gets cut. On the other hand, the White House has somehow found hundreds of millions of dollars for abstinence-only programs overseas, which don’t work, and, as the quote above shows, are exactly the wrong way to alleviate infant mortality.