Improving Children’s Environmental Health

Linked with our presentation of Zilda Arns Neumann – Brazil.
And linked with our presentation of The ‘Pastoral’ of the Child / Pastoral da Criança – Brazil.

Presentation by Dr. Ms. Zilda Arns Neumann, 67, paediatrician and health specialist, founder and National Coordinator of the Child Pastorate of the Catholic Church, Brazil, on prevention as only sustainable solution for a healthy future for our children. This will only be possible if we protect the environment. Her speach:
Nature is the best source of wisdom. Animals always seek the best place to ensure the reproduction of their species. Fish swim against the flow in search for calm and safe waters where they can lay down their eggs; birds fly to the top of the highest trees and cliffs to lay their eggs and protect their offspring from predators. They know that the environment is the determining factor to ensure the continuity of their kind. Humans, on the other hand, must be stimulated to take proper care of their environment, both for the continuity of their species on Earth, and for protection of the natural ecosystem. These values are most easily developed during the first years of life. Thus, environmental protection needs to become a cultural value stimulated among children and families from all social classes.

My work as leader of the Child Pastorate in Brazil started in 1983 as an initiative of the Catholic Church. During these 19 years, I have noticed the dramatic way through which the environment interferes not only in the survival of children, but especially in the development of their own citizenship. Pregnant women need sun, good nutrition, clean air and safe water in order to stay healthy and ensure their babies all that they need to have a good start in life. Talking, walking, and playing, which are fundamental for children’s development and social inclusion, are often denied, interrupted, or postponed due to the lack of even minimum household or community infrastructure. It is thus necessary to bring together all efforts to ensure a healthy environment for everyone in order to improve the health and well being of our children within their family and community.

The Child Pastorate monitors every month over 76 thousand pregnant women and 1.6 million needy children younger than six. Among the children monitored by the Pastorate, the child mortality rate is less than half of the national average.
Compared to the national average of 34.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, the Child Pastorate recorded less than 13 deaths. This successful result was achieved thanks to the untiring work of more than 153 thousand volunteers, 90% of whom are poor women trained to work in solidarity networks in their own communities.

Community leaders taking responsibility for their own progress are the main reason for the project’s success and low-cost: the monitoring of each child costs less than fifty cents per month. I am sure that simple and low-cost initiatives, easily replicable through community involvement, could also contribute to protect and rebuild the environment. The training and monitoring of leaders, the constant updating of the information system through the use of simple indicators, and the feedback to the communities are other important tools used by the Pastorate that can be applied to developing a healthier environment.

In addition to bringing down the infant mortality rate caused by diarrhoea – and by extension unsanitary environmental conditions – the Child Pastorate has managed to decrease malnutrition, illiteracy, and marginality, as a result of its work as a community-based human solidarity network. Visits are made to more than one million families every month, and monthly meetings carried out in more than 32,000 communities at which time the children are weighed and people’s faith in God and hope for better days are renewed.

When each (poor) person feels responsible for the environment where he/she lives, and perceives it as something important for his/her own survival and social inclusion, he/she will naturally join the efforts to protect it.

The big world powers, the rich and developing countries with highest income concentration should be concerned about implementing proper policies to assist the poorest populations in order to improve their opportunities and in consequence alleviate environmental degradation, hunger, and child-maternal mortality. At present, the debt load of developing countries is an important issue for debate. In developing countries, paying the debt means using financial resources that could otherwise be invested in social projects in the areas of health, education, housing, and environmental protection to ensure the quality of life of the population as a whole. It would be a great step forward if all rich countries decided to turn the poor countries’ debt into social commitments to be duly monitored through social control. No concentration of power can ever make up for the death of innocent children, hunger, poverty, ignorance, and war. It is unacceptable that the financial profit of just a few can lead to so much social disorder, threatening world peace.

How much is spent every year with violence, war, and the impact of social exclusion?

I wonder why the world leaders, who are so competent in administration and management, still fail to invest more in the construction of peace through social justice and the globalization of solidarity.

Just like the animals that search for safe places with an abundance of water and food to ensure the reproduction and growth of their offspring, we too have to care about our environment so that all of our children can grow up in a world free of pollution, rich in good quality water and food, and access to all of the resources that favour our development. This is the best way to teach them to appreciate and protect the environment for the next generations, as protagonists of Peace in our planet.

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