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Child Mortality Gap Narrows in Developing Countries

FILE - Pakistani hospital staff members attend newly born babies in Karachi, Pakistan.
FILE - Pakistani hospital staff members attend newly born babies in Karachi, Pakistan.

Child mortality rates have dropped to record lows in developing countries. Improved government action and simple protective health measures are narrowing the mortality gap in children under five years old between the richest and the poorest families.

According to the United Nations, the number of deaths in children under five has dropped from 12.7 million in 1990 to about 6.3 million in 2013, or about 17,000 deaths per day.

Stanford University population health analyst Eran Bendavid credits things like malarial bed nets and oral rehydration salts, which are used to treat diarrheal diseases in children in low- and moderate-income countries.

“The poorest of the poor - we’re talking about countries where people live on $1 or $2 per day on average...have seen enormous declines in mortality. Their children are surviving at rates they have never seen before in those contexts,” said Bendavid.

Bendavid led a study by researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine that used demographic and health surveys to analyze child mortality in 54 countries. The research involved surveys of 1.2 million women in more than 929,000 families.

Investigators compared child mortality data between 2000 and 2007 with data from 2008 to 2012.

They found mortality rates for children under-five declined 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births among poor families, 3.36 deaths per 1,000 among middle-income households and 2.06 deaths per 1,000 among the wealthiest families.

Bendavid said that in countries with good governance, international aid can flow to people who need it. However, in nations rife with corruption and lawlessness, the number of pediatric deaths increased during the same period.

“If you have Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, if you have situations now like you have in Pakistan where aid workers are being vilified and attacked for providing vaccines, you know, where you have a governance that really has no ability to provide the basic conditions for health to work, basic safety, the legitimacy for health workers to go and do what they need to do, then even those simple and basic and easy interventions can’t be accomplished,” said Bendavid.

Countries that have seen a significant improvement in the child mortality gap between rich and poor include Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Ghana.

The study on child mortality was published in the journal Pediatrics.