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Report: Fewer Children Under Age 5 Are Dying

  • Lisa Schlein

A new report finds that in the past two decades, rapid progress has been made in reducing deaths among children under age five. It also says that an estimated 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday, compared to around 12 million in 1990.

Child mortality rates have fallen in all regions of the world in the past two decades, according to a new report. It says the number of deaths is down by at least 50 percent in eastern, western and southeastern Asia, as well as in northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the U.N. Population Division collaborated on the report.

Ties Boerma is the chief of the World Health Organization Health Statistics and Informatics. Boerma says in the past 10 years, global child mortality has fallen by an average of more than 3 percent a year. He calls this important progress.

But, Boerma notes it is not good enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of cutting child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. He says this needs to be radically accelerated to a more than 14 percent reduction in each of the next three years.

“Sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia face the greatest challenges in child survival. More than 80 percent of child deaths in the world occur in these two regions. About half of child deaths occur in just five countries - India, which actually takes 24 percent of the global total; Nigeria, 11 percent; the Democratic Republic of Congo, 7 percent; Pakistan, 5 percent and China, 4 percent of under-five deaths in the world,” Boerma said.

Boerma says in developed countries, one child in 152 dies before his or her fifth birthday. In Sub-Saharan Africa, he says one out of nine children dies, and in Asia that figure is one in 16.

The report says globally, the leading causes of death among children under 5 are pneumonia, pre-term birth complications, diarrhea, complications during birth, and malaria.

Tessa Wardlaw, the chief of monitoring and statistics for the U.N. Children’s Fund, says she is encouraged by the progress being made in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world, but she says the rate of decline in child deaths has more than doubled in Africa.

“We welcome the widespread progress in child survival, but we importantly want to stress that there is a lot of work that remains to be done. There is unfinished business and the fact is that today on average, some 19,000 children are still dying every day from largely preventable causes,” Wardlaw said.

The World Health Organization says the key to tackling these problems is to make sure women have access to health services so complications can be avoided or treated when identified.

It says having emergency obstetric services at the time of delivery can save both the mother’s and baby’s lives. WHO also recommends home visits in the days immediately after birth to teach new mothers about the beneficial effects of exclusive breastfeeding. It says visiting nurses also can ensure proper hygienic care of the cord, and prevent women from getting infections and passing these on to their babies.