The Atlantic

Fixing the World's Oldest Health Problem

A new intervention from researchers, philanthropists, and government officials in Mali uses universal health care and basic public-health strategies to address child mortality.
Source: Jerome Delay / AP

Even with futuristic advances in medicine and science, and increased access to food and other forms of nutrition, the oldest human health problem has remained stubborn—and, sometimes, seemingly impossible to fix: Young children and infants still die at epidemic rates in the poorest corners of the globe. Those deaths are linked to every other health-care challenge those areas of the world experience, from the prevalence of fever illnesses to the limited availability and quality of care. The mortality rates of young children are the key indicator of individual, community, and economic health of a given place. And in areas from sub-Saharan Africa to southern Mississippi, elevated rates indicate communities in distress.

But one program in the West African nation of Mali may illuminate a path to solving this most vexingindicates that a pilot program in the capital city of Bamako has been extraordinarily effective at reducing child mortality. And it’s the that pilot program addressed the problem in Mali that makes it intriguing in a global context: by expanding free health care to everyone, and using that free care to extend basic public-health surveillance and response mechanisms to everyone.

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