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UN Reports Children's Lives Are Improving

The UN Children's Fund says good progress has been made in saving children's lives. UNICEF, which has just launched its annual State of the World's Children's Report, says many more children's lives can be saved by using available simple, low cost tools and involving local communities in providing essential health services to mothers and children. Lisa Schlein was at the launch of the UNICEF report in Geneva and has this report for VOA.

In 2006, for the first time since world data have been collected, UNICEF estimates the total number of global deaths of children under age five fell below 10 million. It notes this is a 60 percent drop in the rate of child mortality since 1960.

But UNICEF says much more needs to be done, especially in sub-Sahara Africa. UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman says about one half of child deaths around the world occur in Africa.

"Based on 2006 statistics, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa has a one in six chance of dying before the age of five. An estimated four million babies die each year in their first month of life and up to half of these deaths occur in the first 24 hours. Many of these babies die at home without access to essential health services that might have saved their lives," she said.

In absolute numbers, UNICEF reports most deaths among newborns occur in South Asia. It notes Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia together account for 80 percent of all under-five mortality.

The report finds more children die in countries affected by conflict and those with high prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

Veneman says the health of the child is directly linked to the health of the mother. "As we all know a healthy mother is more likely to have a healthy child. Over 500,000 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications every year. In some cases because they face major obstacles in getting care," she said.

Veneman tells VOA providing essential integrated health services at the community level greatly increases the chance of saving the lives of both mother and child. She says many of the interventions that are available are effective and affordable.

"Basic antibiotics for pneumonia, oral re-hydration therapy, a very low cost intervention for diarrheal diseases. Breast-feeding and making sure mothers really do breast-feed their children for the first six months of their lives. Basic immunizations which really-most countries do now have access to. Vitamin A supplementation again not very expensive, but very important to a child," he said.

She says it is important to train more community health workers so they can provide many of these low cost life-saving tools to the mothers and their children.