A new report by the U.N. Children's Agency shows progress on reducing child deaths is alarmingly slow, even though low-cost means for doing so are available. UNICEF has just launched its Progress For Children report which ranks countries according to how well they are doing in saving children's lives.
UNICEF says 90 countries are on track to meet a U.N. target of reducing child deaths by two thirds by 2015. But, it adds 91 countries are considerably off track, and globally everyone could be doing better.
In 2002, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available, the report finds one in 12 children around the world died before the age of five. This is an improvement over the 1960s when one in five children died.
Nevertheless, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Rima Salah, says this represents an unacceptable 11 million child deaths a year, most of which could have been prevented. She says a child's chance of survival depends on where he or she is born.
"If a child now is born in Europe, he will survive, for example, and if he is born in sub-Saharan Africa, he has the highest risk to die before he celebrates his fifth birthday," she said.
In industrialized countries, the report notes seven out of 1,000 children under the age of five die every year. By comparison, 158 children out of 1,000 die in the least developed countries. The report ranks Sierra Leone, which has more than 280 deaths per 1,000 live births, as the country with the worst child survival rate in the world.
UNICEF says little or no health care for mothers, and the lack of skilled attendants during deliveries, cause the largest proportion of preventable deaths. It says infectious and parasitic diseases, such as measles and malaria are the next biggest killers.
Ms. Salah says the world has the tools to improve child survival, but it does not use them.
"We have examples that coverage in vitamin A supplementation can save over a quarter of a million lives a year and also oral re-hydration therapy can prevent one million deaths," she said. "We know it, we know that immunization programs can protect the lives also of four million children. But, how can we do it when 50 percent of children in West and Central Africa and in Africa, in general, are still not vaccinated."
UNICEF's Progress for Children Report finds much of the Middle East and Northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific are making substantial improvements in cutting child deaths. But, disturbingly, it says the number of child deaths is rising, instead of declining in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, south Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.