A United Nations report says governments in the Asia and the Pacific
need to step up spending on public health systems and lower income
disparities to ensure child survival rates are sustained. As Ron Corben
reports from Bangkok, the U.N. report says gains in China and India in
reducing infant mortality hold the key to the Asia Pacific achieving
key child survival goals by 2015.
The report, released by the
United Nations Childrens Fund says Asia Pacific's buoyant economic
growth of the past decade has been a key contributor to reducing infant
and child mortality rates across the region.
Anupama Rao Singh,
UNICEF regional director, says the report notes progress over the past
two decades, although there are signs gains have slowed over recent
years. In 1970 the annual number of under five deaths was 10.5
million. By 1990 this figure fell to 6.7 million. By 2006 this had
declined to four million deaths.
"There has been good progress
in the decline of infant and child mortality rates if you compare it
from the 1970s to date," said Rao Singh. "Many countries are on track
to achieving the millennium development goals of reducing infant and
child mortality by two-thirds by 2015."
The report says China
and India hold the key to the region achieving the millennium
development goals in child survival. China, India and Pakistan are
three of six countries which globally account for half of all deaths of
children under five.
In China, two-thirds of the country's under
five deaths were neonatal with almost 80 percent occurring in the first
week of life.
But Rao Singh says China appears on target on achieving its infant and child mortality targets.
has made tremendous progress," she said. "As far as China is really addressing
mortality and child deaths in the first four weeks of life; it's very,
very closely linked. Clearly, China is in terms of national
averages and norms clearly on a path of achieving the millennium
development goal of two thirds reduction."
In India the report
calls for major improvements in health, nutrition, water and
sanitation, and education to achieve its millennium goals. India has
127 million children under five years. In 2006 it reported over two
million under five years dying.
It also pointed to "extreme
problems" faced by Afghanistan, which has the third highest rate of
under five mortality in the world. In contrast, Sri Lanka has made
major gains in reducing child mortality over recent years despite
A high burden of neonatal deaths occurs due to
insufficient maternal health care services, and maternal under
nutrition. Pneumonia and diarroeheal diseases as well as measles also
claim many young lives.
Widening income disparities in South
East Asia also put more children at risk despite gains against a
backdrop of declines in public health spending that add to burdens on
the poor. Rao Singh says it is vital Asia achieves its goals on
improving child survival rates.
"If Asia does not achieve the
Millennium Development Goals of reducing mortality by two thirds the
world will not achieve them," she said. "Our estimates 9.7 million
children under five died last year - more than four million were in
Asia alone. So the achievement of these goals in Asia is going to be
of global significance."
Urbanization and a shortage of skilled
health workers are also having a "marked effect" on inequity affecting
the lowest income groups. Governments need to increase and sustain
budget spending over the next decade to ensure countries reach the
goals on infant and child mortality.
The report says if the Asia
Pacific fails to extend essential services to the poor and marginalized
groups and narrow income disparities it may lead to one million child
deaths in Asia Pacific in 2015 that would have otherwise been averted
had the development goals been reached.