Battling For Good Health in Congo

War may indeed be hell, but hell, apparently, isn't all that bad for your health. According to a new study, during most armed conflicts since the 1970s mortality rates have actually declined. That's not to say that war, in and of itself, leads to longer life spans. Instead, a major reason for the drop is that conflict has become an impetus for international humanitarian groups to ramp up their efforts in a poor country, and they've learned to work public-health miracles in a short amount of time. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, just 20 percent of children were vaccinated for measles in 1997, at the start of a decade-long civil war. But by 2007 that figure was 80 percent. The metrics on other health initiatives, from treating malnutrition to distributing bed nets, tell a similar story. "It's never any fun living in a refugee camp," says Andrew Mack, a professor at Simon Fraser University and the study's lead author. "But the mortality rates are better in many of those camps than they were before the war." That's no reason to celebrate warfare. But it does suggest that its toll has become less costly.