U.S. to support international declaration on child health


WASHINGTON -- The United States plans to commit itself on Sunday to a United Nations declaration that sets many goals for maternal and child health that the United States itself has difficulty meeting.

The goals are contained in a plan of action to be adopted Sunday at the World Summit for Children, in New York. President Bush and leaders of at least 70 other countries plan to attend the conference, described by the United Nations as the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

The plan calls for reducing infant mortality and poverty among children while increasing access to family planning services and prenatal care for pregnant women, administration officials said yesterday.

The conference was originally expected to focus on starving children in the Third World. But two of the six countries that initiated the conference, Canada and Sweden, and lobbyists from child-advocacy groups have converted it into a forum for measuring problems in the industrial world as well.

Planning for the conference has forced the Bush administration to focus on the problems of children in a way that the U.S. government has not done in a decade. But there is no indication whether the administration has any new programs or proposals to address those problems.

The conference comes just as the White House and Congress are agreeing on a deficit-reduction package that will cut the budget for many child health programs in this country.

The conference will highlight social problems that exist in both the Third World and the inner cities of the United States. Pediatricians, public health officers and advocates for the rights of children say the administration has not moved aggressively to solve such problems.

Indeed, the White House has delayed publication of a federal report that describes how the United States could prevent 10,000 of the 40,000 infant deaths that occur in this country each year.

Administration officials have withheld the report from Congress, saying it reflects confidential deliberations in the executive branch. The report suggests that the United States spend $500 million a year for expansion of Medicaid, early prenatal care and similar assistance.

Judith E. Jones, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, at Columbia University, said: "The United States does not set a good example for the world by the way it treats its own children. In this country, nearly one out of every four children under 6 years of age lives in poverty."

The infant mortality rate in the United States declined last year, but is still higher than that of 17 other countries.

Experts on child health say the United States would have to make increases of several billion dollars a year in spending on prenatal care, childhood immunization, nutrition, education and other programs to meet all the goals of the conference.

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