A quarter of a million children die worldwide each week from common illnesses, even though total immunization costs about $10 per child.

One-third of the world's children are stunted by malnutrition, despite the fact that blindness and malnutrition in some of the children could be prevented for as little as a dime a year.In September, leaders from 159 countries, including 71 presidents and prime ministers, attended the World Summit for Children at the United Nations in New York City. There, the majority agreed to 20 goals they would try to achieve by the year 2000.

Wednesday, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released "The State of the World's Children 1991," a look at the plight of children in industrialized and developing countries and a summary of the 20 goals.

"On that Sunday, for the first time, the center of the stage was occupied not by the victims of any sudden disaster, any earthquake, famine or flood," the report says, "but by the children who are the victims of the much greater daily disaster of malnutrition and disease. For the first time, their case was put before the assembled political leaders of the world. For the first time, their voice went out around the world. For the first time, their claim was acknowledged by headlines in virtually every country. And if the world keeps faith with the commitments made that day, then of these children it might at last be said that their time has come."

The goals address deaths caused by disease and malnutrition, protection for girls and women, nutrition, child health and education.

Among other things, leaders agreed to use education, low-cost technology and foreign aid to try to reduce measle deaths by 95 percent, eliminate tetanus, eradicate polio and provide immunizations to at least 90 percent of all children. They also vowed to battle poverty and illiteracy by seeing that the vast majority of children under 11 attend primary school.

Worldwide immunization of children is expected to cost about $1 billion a year for the next 10 years. The report says that developing countries could pay for three-fourths of their own immunizations, but would require $300 million to $400 million from industrialized nations.

Cost of achieving the 20 goals is estimated at $20 billion a year, which UNICEF says is "about as much as the world now spends on the military every 10 days."

That money might be found, it suggests, "by a small reduction in military spending, by debt relief linked to investment in children and by re-directing existing budgets from high-cost services for the few to low-cost services for the many . . . At present, only about 3 percent of the industrialized world's aid is devoted to such basics as primary education, primary health care and rural water supply."

Foreign aid, it says, should be linked to "a developing country's commitment to improving the lives of the poor majority."

The summit centered around what UNICEF's report calls a "quiet catastrophe": 40,000 child deaths from malnutrition and illness every day, 150 million children living with ill health and stunted growth and 100 million children age 6-11 who don't attend school.

The goal, the report says, is not perfection. Instead, world leaders hope to reduce or eliminate problems by at least targeted proportions in the next nine years.

"A great promise has been made to the children of the 1990s," said UNICEF director James Grant. "Whether the promise will be kept is a question which will be answered not by the declarations of the day, but by the deeds of a decade."


(Additional information)

Goals for 2000

The U.S. government has announced 19 goals related to the health and well-being of women and children for the year 2000. The goals include:

- Cutting infant mortality rate to no more than 7 per 1,000 live births (there were 10.4 in 1986). The target for blacks is 11 (from 18 in 1986).

- Cut the maternal mortality rate in half, to 3.6 per 100,000. For blacks, the target is 75 percent reduction to 5 per 100,000.

- Reduce low birth weight to 5 percent per live births (9 percent for blacks).

- Educate women about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and tobacco to an unborn fetus and increase abstinence by pregnant women by at least 40 percent.

- Get at least 90 percent of women into prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy.