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Children's health in southern Italy is in crisis

PLOS

If southern Italy was thought of as an independent European country, it would be the European country with the highest poverty rate, weighted for national income, say two Italian researchers in an article in this month's open access medical journal PLoS Medicine. And the high poverty rate in the south, they argue, is one of the reasons why the health and social and educational wellbeing of children in the south is worse than that in the north.

Maurizio Bonati and Rita Campi, of the Mother and Child Health Laboratory at the Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research, Milan, Italy, say that the neonatal mortality rates (the death rates during the first 28 days of life) in some southern Italian regions are four times higher than in the north. The authors suggest that this difference reflects the worse quality of care for newborn babies in the south.

And children in southern Italy, they say, "face a constellation of risks--a high rate of school dropout, a low youth employment rate, and a higher likelihood of living in difficult family circumstances (involving factors such as low family educational level, family poverty, and families doing illegal work)." Children in the north are much less likely to experience this set of risks.

Children in the south are also less likely to get preventive care, such as vaccinations: "The vaccine uptake rate for measles by a child's second birthday, for example, ranges from 54.9% in Calabria to 89.6% in Tuscany."

Compared to the rest of Europe, "Italy's approach to ensuring the future health of its children is not encouraging." What is needed are "public-health programs focusing on promoting, monitoring, and improving children's well-being," which should be "taken on as a recognized challenge and should be a political commitment."

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Citation: Bonati M, Campi R (2005) What can we do to improve child health in southern Italy? PLoS Med 2(9): e250.

CONTACT:
Maurizio Bonati and Rita Campi
tel: 0039 02 390141
e-mail: mother_child@marionegri.it

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